Oaklawn Park will host the $900,000 G2 Rebel Stakes this Saturday. Eleven probable starters will contest this 1-1/16 two turn race over the dirt course for the purse and 50 Kentucky Derby points. As usual, I will remind you that 50 points has been enough to get a spot in the gate on the first Saturday in May.
The Rebel Stakes has had a few winners go on to Kentucky Derby glory with graduates including American Pharoah, Smarty Jones, and Sunny’s Halo. In the past 10 years, The Rebel Stakes has also produced four Eclipse Award winners; Curlin, Lookin at Lucky, Will Take Charge, and American Pharoah.
Recently, Bob Baffert has made the Rebel his own personal playground as he has shipped in to win 6 of the last 7. This year Baffert brings lightly raced but highly regarded American Anthem to the Arkansas oval hoping to add to his success.
The Oaklawn Park dirt course has been running evenly with 20% winners going wire to wire in 1-1/16 mile races. The rail is only winning at a 9% clip in these races, so I watched a few recent two turn dirt races to see if the top jockeys were guiding their horses in the 2 or 3 paths when given the chance and, sure enough, it looks like just off the rail is the place to be.
There are several speedballs in this race to ensure a healthy pace. Uncontested, with Channing Hill up, is full of early run but faded out of the money both times he tried graded stakes company. Petrov, with jockey Jose Ortiz, has also posted some nice early speed figures and has stayed on to hold 2nd in his last three starts. Todd Pletcher’s Malagacy will also be in the mix from post #6. Malagacy is undefeated in 2 starts, winning by 15 and 7 lengths while posting very nice speed figures. This will be his first try against stakes company and first try at a route distance.
Further out we have Royal Mo. This John Shirreffs trainee is coming off of a front running, 1-1/16 mile grade 3 win at Santa Anita, but I am not impressed with the competition nor the speed figure he put up. In his defense, it was his first start after a 2-1/2 month layoff.
And then there is Baffert’s 2-1 morning line American Anthem with Mike Smith aboard. American Anthem will look to redeem himself after being a beaten even money favorite in the slop at Santa Anita’s G3 Sham Stakes in January. Anthem dueled to a monstrous early pace with the eventual winner, Gormley, and battled back gamely on the inside to come up a neck short at the wire, 12 lengths ahead of the rest of the field. I am conflicted about this race because it was a great battle, but he saved all the ground, had the lead for the first 3/4’s of a mile but didn’t win. Furthermore, Gormley’s next effort produced a fading 4th place finish that was so far back he may still be running. With these doubts and a short price, I will look elsewhere.
I am going to take a shot to beat the favorite here and will put my money on Malagacy. Yes, it’s his first route race, his first try around 2 turns, he has only beaten maidens and an optional claiming non-winners field, and it’s his first stakes race. But in both of his sprint tries he won by many open lengths, and in both races he broke 2nd and seemed to find new gears every time he was urged even slightly. It looks like he is being schooled to not need the lead. I believe Malagacy can sit behind the speed and turn it on when he is stretched out. His speed figures and winning margins warrant respect and consideration, and I love a 3-yr old who looks like he is moving forward.
I was surprised that this untested colt was put up with a 4-1 morning line, but I will take Malagacy for the win.