Who Will Win the Rebel Stakes Showdown?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Our quest to picks 50% winners in 2021 enters the second week of March in the "close, but not quite" territory.

We were right on target after Life Is Good rolled to a convincing win in the San Felipe (G2) last Saturday, but then Ride a Comet faltered with a seventh-place effort in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), leaving our record for the year at 8-for-17 (47%).

We'll try to get back on track when Oaklawn Park hosts the $1 million Rebel (G2) on Saturday. Truthfully, I believe there's a 50% chance we'll get back to the 50% mark, because to me the Rebel looks like a two-horse race between #1 Caddo River (9-5) and #7 Concert Tour (2-1).

I actually suspect Concert Tour will start as the favorite, and for a good reason—he's trained by Bob Baffert. Since 2010, the Hall of Fame conditioner has compiled an extraordinary 13-7-3-1 record in the Rebel, most notably winning six out of seven editions between 2010 and 2016. Even more remarkable? All seven of Baffert's Rebel champs went on to win Grade 1 races, a testament to the quality of horses Baffert sends to Oaklawn.

Certainly Concert Tour brings promising credentials to the table. A flashy debut winner sprinting six furlongs at Santa Anita, Concert Tour most recently battled to a narrow victory in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2), in which he posted solid Beyer and Brisnet speed figures. A son of Street Sense out of a Tapit mare, Concert Tour is bred to stretch out and figures to enjoy a perfect trip behind the speed in the Rebel.

But not even Baffert can win the Rebel every year. Four of his last five starters have been defeated, including champions Game Winner and Improbable in separate divisions in 2019. Why the shift? You can argue it's because Baffert has started running his best sophomores in the San Felipe (G2) instead. Four consecutive high-profile Baffert trainees (Life Is Good, Authentic, McKinzie, and Mastery) have crossed the wire first in the San Felipe, and Game Winner was likewise expected to tackle the San Felipe until a temporary shutdown at Santa Anita prompted the cancellation of the race.

So might Concert Tour actually be vulnerable at Oaklawn? It's a possibility worth pondering, especially since Concert Tour has yet to defeat the toughest competition. The runner-up from his maiden win, Mr. Impossible, regressed in two subsequent starts against similar company. And Concert Tour's stablemate Freedom Fighter—beaten just half a length in the San Vicente—faltered to finish fourth in the Gotham (G3) last week, a disappointing effort considering he escaped with an easy lead as the 2-1 second choice.

For these reasons, I'm going to side with Caddo River instead. A son of Hard Spun out the stakes-winning router Pangburn, Caddo River showed promise in his first two starts sprinting, finishing second in a pair of competitive maiden special weights on the New York circuit. Notably, Caddo River finished ahead of future Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Greatest Honour on both occasions.

But Caddo River has elevated his game to a new level since stretching out over one mile and switching to front-running tactics. The Brad Cox trainee crushed a maiden race at Churchill Downs last fall, carving out fast splits of :22.38, :44.59, and 1:09.48 before drawing off to beat a decent field (including future Dania Beach Stakes winner Kentucky Pharoah) by 9 1/2 lengths. Then in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, Caddo River assumed a comfortable lead before surging clear to score by 10 1/4 lengths over future Saudi Derby runner-up Cowan and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) third-place finisher Moonlite Strike.

Caddo River's performance in the Smarty Jones was impressive because he appeared well within himself from start to finish. He had little difficult securing the early lead through splits of :23.12, :47.16, and 1:12.42, and down the stretch he was just galloping along with his ears pricked, drawing away under a vigorous hand ride from hot jockey Florent Geroux.

Assuming Caddo River breaks alertly in the Rebel, he should have no difficulty securing the lead from the rail draw. He's facing a few speedy rivals, but in terms of Brisnet Pace ratings, Caddo River is clearly the "speed of the speed," and anyone who tries to knock heads with him early will likely sacrifice their own chances.

My only hesitation is the fact Caddo River is picking up a significant amount of weight from the Smarty Jones, carrying 122 pounds (up from 115) while spotting Concert Tour five pounds. But my gut feeling is that Caddo River is good enough to overcome the obstacle and record a third straight front-running victory.

#4 Get Her Number (8-1) and #6 Keepmeinmind (4-1) are the other major names in the Rebel field. Get Her Number defeated future stakes winners Rombauer and Spielberg in the American Pharoah (G1) last September, while Keepmeinmind hit the board in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) before rallying to victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2).

But Get Her Number and Keepmeinmind are both returning from long layoffs, and in the case of Keepmeinmind, his layoff has been longer than planned. He was originally slated to contest the Southwest (G3) last month, but winter weather shut down training at Oaklawn, so Keepmeinmind missed some training time and was forced to reroute to the Rebel. I'll both Get Her Number and Keepmeinmind for the top two slots, though they're certainly logical candidates to round out the trifecta or superfecta.


Even if Concert Tour fails to win the Rebel, Baffert can still make headlines with a different Triple Crown-nominated colt. In Saturday's second race at Santa Anita, the highly regarded #5 Triple Tap (4-5) will make his debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight, and all signs suggest the son of Tapit is sitting on a powerful performance.

A half-brother to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and a full brother to Grade 1 winner Chasing Yesterday, Triple Tap has been training up a storm in preparation for his first start. He's cranked out four bullet workouts since the beginning of February, and on Feb. 27 he breezed six furlongs in a swift 1:11 1/5 alongside stablemate and Robert B. Lewis (G3) winner Medina Spirit. For good measure, Triple Tap capped off his preparations with five furlongs from the starting gate in :59 flat last Sunday.

According to statistics from DRF Formulator, over the last five years Baffert has gone 6-for-14 (43%) debuting colts and geldings in seven-furlong sprints, including victories by future Grade 1 winners Justify and McKinzie. This record becomes even more remarkable when you consider how four of Baffert's losing colts were beaten by their own stablemates—in other words, Baffert saddled the winner in six of the 10 races included in the sample size.

Triple Tap doesn't have to be a superstar to defeat Saturday's field. He'll face just four rivals, all of them experienced runners with generally unremarkable form and speed figures. But if Triple Tap is a superstar... we can expect to see eye-catching performance.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Rebel?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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 www.theturfboard.com.

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