J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
a deep breath, folks! With just seven weeks remaining until the Kentucky Derby,
the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) is the last Derby prep race that falls before
the start of the "final prep races" on March 26th. In other words,
from here on out, the road to the Derby is going to get intense--I hope you're
ready for the ride!
is fitting for such a milestone on the Derby trail, the Rebel Stakes has drawn
a terrific field of fourteen colts and geldings with Derby aspirations. It
promises to be a great betting race, so without further ado, let's take a look
at the entries!
|1||Creator||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||Steve Asmussen||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
|3||Ralis||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||14th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
|4||Cupid||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
|5||Discreetness||Jon Court||William Fires||7th Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|6||Siding Spring||Joe Rocco Jr.||Mark Casse||5th Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|7||Spikes Shirl||Jesus Castanon||Dallas Stewart||2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
|1a||Madtap||Corey Nakatani||Steve Asmussen||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
|8||American Dubai||Chris Landeros||Rodney Richards||3rd Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|2||Z Royal||Ramon Vasquez||D. Wayne Lukas||8th Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|2a||Gray Sky||Florent Geroux||D. Wayne Lukas||2nd Allowance (VIDEO)|
|9||Cutacorner||A. Birzer||Jack Van Berg||9th Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|10||Whitmore||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Ron Moquett||2nd Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|11||Cherry Wine||Corey Lanerie||Dale Romans||1st Allowance Optioanl Claiming (VIDEO)|
|12||Suddenbreakingnews||Luis Quinonez||Donnie K. Von Hemel||1st Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
Bob Baffert has absolutely dominated this race in recent years, winning five of
the last six renewals with talented horses like American Pharoah, Secret
Circle, and Lookin at Lucky. Baffert hasn't enjoyed quite the same success in
Oaklawn's early Derby preps this season, but for the Rebel, I think he's
sending his best chance so far this year with Cupid. The son of Tapit lost his first two starts sprinting at
Santa Anita, but turned in a spectacular performance when stretched out to 8.5
furlongs in a maiden race on February 7th. On that day, Cupid
settled a couple lengths off the lead through slow fractions of :48.62 and
1:13.12, then unleashed a terrific burst of acceleration to roar past the
leaders and draw off with power to win by 5 ¼ lengths while hardly asked for
any run at all.
Cupid's performance was exceptional, and my feeling is that he has the
potential to be among the best three-year-olds in the country. However, he could
be in for a tricky trip while breaking from post three in a full field, since
his preferred running style of settling a few lengths off the lead could cause
him to get bottled up in traffic. A ground-saving trip wouldn't be a bad thing,
but it could be tricky to find racing room in the homestretch.
who unleashed a tremendous late rally to win the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at
Oaklawn in last-to-first fashion, might start as the favorite. Trained by
Donnie Von Hemel, Suddenbreakingnews is a nose and a neck away from being
unbeaten in six starts, and he was absolutely full of run in the final furlong
of the Southwest Stakes. He won that race from post thirteen, so drawing post
fourteen in the Rebel shouldn't be too much of an issue, but it's worth noting
that he got a great pace setup in the Southwest and might not encounter such an
ideal pace on Saturday.
the Southwest was contested over a drying-out track labeled "good," and while Suddenbreakingnews
is proven over fast tracks, I think the wet track may have helped his chances
in the Southwest, and a drier track on Saturday is one more question mark that
he's facing. For these reasons--as well as the fact that Suddenbreakingnews will
carry top weight of 122 pounds--I'll play against Suddenbreakingnews for the top
spot in the Rebel, even though I really respect his talent and view him as a
major Kentucky Derby contender.
Whitmore and American Dubai, the second- and
third-place finishers in the Southwest Stakes, are two other runners to strongly
consider. In the Southwest, Whitmore stayed closer to the fast pace than
Suddenbreakingnews did and was moving like a winner on the far turn before
flattening out slightly in the homestretch. It was still a very nice effort,
and the fact that Whitmore has shown lots of tactical speed and doesn't have to
close from way back is a major positive--if the pace is modest in the Rebel,
Whitmore can adapt and stay closer to the lead if necessary. But he did draw
very wide in post twelve, and any strategy short of dropping to the back of the
pack or sending straight to the lead could result in a wide trip.
for American Dubai, he pressed the
pace in the Southwest and ran a great race in defeat, leading past the eighth
pole before tiring to finish just a half-length behind Whitmore. That was only
the third start of his career, and with a couple of strong workouts under his
belt since then--including five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 on March 5th--he
could be poised to take another step forward on Saturday. He showed in his
maiden win that he doesn't have to be part of the early pace to be successful,
and if he can settle a little better this Saturday, I think he could be very
tough to run down.
all that said, my selection to win the Rebel is Madtap. The first four starts of his career were nothing to write
home about, but he showed steady improvement and took a nice step forward when
third to Dazzling Gem and Gray Sky in an 8.5-furlong allowance race on February
13th at Oaklawn.
in Madtap's most recent start, he took a dramatic step forward to stamp himself
as a serious contender for the Rebel. In an 8.5-furlong allowance optional
claiming race at Oaklawn, he showed excellent speed while helping to set
fractions of :23.17 and :46.60, then took command in the homestretch to draw
off powerfully and win by six lengths in the sharp time of 1:43.85 seconds. At
first glance, this is a very impressive performance, but it gets even better
when you consider that he was wide throughout the race and ran the last
sixteenth in :06.14 seconds, a stellar fraction that shows he was actually
accelerating in the homestretch as opposed to slowing down.
as impressive is that Madtap was very relaxed throughout the race and allowed
horses to rally past him on the inside without getting rank and trying to catch
them, which bodes well for his chances of settling off the leaders this
Saturday. He's drawn well in post seven and should be able to work out a great
trip stalking the pace without racing too wide, and if he can repeat his
allowance effort on just two weeks rest, I think he'll be the horse to beat. As
an added benefit, he'll race as a coupled entry with stablemate Creator, who broke his maiden by 7 ¼
lengths on February 27th at Oaklawn.
I'd also like to briefly mention Cherry Wine, who has won two straight races in impressive fashion, including an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream by six lengths. He's kept good company and possesses a very strong late run, but he missed the Fountain of Youth Stakes due to illness and has yet to record a fast final time, so although he must be respected, I think he could be slightly vulnerable this Saturday.
to recap, I'll take Madtap as my
narrow choice to win, with utmost respect to Cupid, who should be very tough to beat if he gets a good trip. Of
the Southwest runners, I narrowly prefer American
Dubai over Whitmore and Suddenbreakingnews, and I think these
five horses have a very strong chance to sweep the superfecta.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Rebel Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.