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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM


Favored Super Ninety Nine Draws Tough Outside Post Faces A Number Of Sharp Challengers

Just as any bettor could hope for, the $600,000 Grade II Rebel Stakes, the final local prep for the all important 100 point Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 13 has drawn a deep field of 11 runners, including the Gary and Mary West entry of Treasury Bill and Title Contender.

While form and works as well as his recent 11 length victory in the sloppy Grade II Southwest Stakes here on February 16 (a race from which the second thru fifth place finishers have defected), expected post time favorite Super Ninety Nine will, nonetheless, have to contend with a number of speedy runners who like to run on the front end or press the pace and do so from a difficult outside post in this mile and a sixteenth test. 

With six three-year olds combined from the barns of Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas as well as a very live entry, the combos will be well spread and the rewards profitable.

Let’s take a look at the runners from the rail out.

CARVE - Prolific trainer Steve Asmussen claimed this son of First Samurai from Albert Stall when he made his debut an impressive winning one vs 30K maiden claimers. Entered right back vs entry level allowance/optional 62.5K claimers the gelding won right back three weeks later. Both races were at today’s mile and a sixteenth distance over this surface and in each case, under two different jockeys the runner tracked just off the pace, patiently moved up on the turn and drew clear in the lane. This is another big step up but given the contentious speed battle that should be engaged between the likes of Delhomme, Will Take Charge, Title Contender, Oxbow and Super Ninety Nine by the time they reach the far turn, another few steps forward and this guy could save ground from the inside under accomplished jockey Cory Nakatani, who rides for the first time and grab a late share.

TREASURY BILL - I loved his late move in the Grade II San Vicente behind Shaken It Up in a relatively pace-less 6 horse field 7 furlong race. The son of Lemon Drop Kid figures to love the move to two turns after three lengthening sprints. The colt turned in a sharp 6 furlong drill in 1:14 4/5 over the Betfair Hollywood strip on March 3 and blew out a best of twenty eight half mile in :48 flat on Monday. Treasury Bill will join entry mate Title Contender as a coupled entry for Gary and Mary West and will be ridden by regular pilot Joe Talamo. With his entry mate having already run over the Oaklawn surface and shown solid speed when he just failed to last after setting the pace to deep stretch in Carve’s entry level allowance/optional claimer, like Carve this colt should benefit from an honest pace.

TEXAS BLING - After closing out his Juvenile campaign by beating Will Take Charge (who he’ll meet for the third straight time here) in a $150K stakes at Remington Park to close out his juvenile campaign the son of Too Much Bling was beaten a neck by that same colt in the Smarty Jones Stakes here when he opened his sophomore season. Next out the well-seasoned youngster (12 career starts) turned in a dismal performance over a sloppy oval when he (like everyone else in the Grade III Southwest Stakes) was no match for today’s likely favorite Super Ninety Nine. He is not a complete toss, but given his speed figures prior to the Remington and Smarty Jones performances, which were substandard by the standards of many in this field he is just as likely to be moving in the wrong direction as he is to bounce back off the poor Southwest. 

DELHOMME - The son of Dixie Union makes his 3-year old debut for Todd Pletcher following a series of promising in-hand 5 furlong breezes. He has worked exactly that distance five straight times at Palm Meadows since February 10 and stopped the clock at between 1:01 1/5 and 1:00 2/5 at 6-8 day intervals. He showed plenty to like in his three juvenile races, finishing second in his debut to Hutcheson winner Honorable Dillon before beating next out winners and stakes runners Long River and Mud Flats when he broke his maiden in start number two. Next out Pletcher gave him his Stakes test in the Grade II Remsen and he carried the lead into past the furlong marker in the 9 furlong Aqueduct main track race before finishing ¾ of as length behind two colts that are on a number of Derby contender lists, Overanalyze and Normandy Invasion. Pletcher has picked a tough spot for his front running colt, but if he is ready and Super Ninety Nine has trouble crossing over from his extreme outside post he could be in the thick of this. Garrett Gomez will take the irons.

HARD ROCK ELEVEN - This Rock Hard Ten gelding is still eligible for non winners of one other than after 7 career starts and following his 19 ½ lengths beaten last place finish at 143-1 in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes 21 days ago one would have to be hard pressed to find anything to like. Trainer David Banks is 0-27 on the year and if this guy’s Fair Grounds performance wasn’t bad enough he was also beaten 18 ¼ lengths and 17 lengths respectively by Texas Bling and Will Take Charge in that aforementioned Remington Park Stakes back in early December and he’ll see those two again. Sometimes the connections can ruin a young runner by continually demoralizing him against this level competition and that looks to be the case here.

DEN’S LEGACY - The last four races for this well bred son of Medaglia d’Oro have been against graded stakes company and he has a win, two seconds and a third. Part of the uncoupled Bob Baffert entry along with Super Ninety Nine the colt has been as consistent as could be even if he hasn’t managed to close the deal a few more times. He could sit a perfect trip under new rider Robbie Albarado (who has had a solid Oaklawn meet...19% winners) who replaces Garrett Gomez, who takes over on Delhomme. Den’s Legacy, who has run well on Santa Anita’s traditional dirt, Betfair’s Polyturf and grass at 5 different distances in his 10 races career (2-5-1) has hit the board versus Flashback, Goldencents and Violence in his last three so gives away class to none of today’s opponents. If you take a stand on using him as part of your exotics you won’t get any arguments here. It is further noted that he could be sitting on his career best if his last three works at Santa Anita following his placing in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis are any indication, especially his 6 furlong blowout in 1:11 2/5 on 2/25 followed by a pair of sub one minute five furlong works on March 3rd and 10th. He is very live.

WILL TAKE CHARGE - The son of Unbridled’s Song upset the Smarty Jones Stakes at 12-1 two back and followed that up with a totally disinterested 18 lengths beaten sixth in the sloppy Grade III Southwest Stakes on February 18. This isn’t the first time a youngster has shown such sharp form reversal as he finished second in the Springboard Mile at Remington after getting trounced by 25 ½ lengths in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes 15 days earlier. But these reversals are common occurrences for trainer Wayne Lukas and that is what makes charting this guy so difficult. He has turned in three sharp breezes, including a 6 furlong work in 1:13 3/5 over a fast Oaklawn main track since the poor sloppy track Southwest effort. If only the off-track was the reason (the only time in 6 career races he has been over such a surface) he might once again turn in a Lukas reversal. Tough to gauge. 

STORM HOLIDAY - Trainer McLean Robertson has had as solid an Oaklawn meet as any trainer with 18 wins from 64 starters heading into Thursday. His Harlan’s Holiday colt has been just as consistent, but is probably a step below many of the top ones in here. The colt swung wide and picked up some ground when he checked in 4th of 9 at 43-1 in the Smarty Jones here back on January 21 and in his most recent ran 4th again in an overnight stakes at 6 furlongs. He was bothered in the lane in that one and was rallying to be beaten less than three lengths so was probably a useful work (14 days ago) as he stretches out again under Derek Bell, who was aboard last time out. The colt also turned in a best of ten 5 furlong bullet work on Wednesday so Robertson is doing everything he can to keep the colt on edge. He could surprise and pick up a minor prize if the pace is ultra-quick and falls apart up front...but even with that this guy would have to run a career best just to get that piece. Too many others appear further along.

TITLE CONTENDER - The son of Pulpit has moved from the barn of Bob Baffert to that of Wayne Catalano since grabbing a clear lead and giving way grudgingly to Carve in an entry level allowance/optional 62.5K claimer here on February 17. Based on past p[performance lines that show him on the lead at first call in 4 of his 5 career starts and a half length off it in the other (the last four of which have been run at a mile and three times at a mile and a sixteenth) it is not an unreasonable speculation that he will break with or in front of the other speed, including expected post time favorite Super Ninety Nine who drew the far outside post. Further fueling the speculation is his two most recent drills that saw him turn in a best of fifty two half mile in :47 2/5 breezing at Fair Grounds on February 28 and a third best of fifty 5 furlong breeze in 1:00 flat over the same surface on March 9. Local jockey Luis Quinonez (16%) takes the assignment. Whether he can carry his speed versus this kind remains to be seen as the two times he faced graded company he was well up the track in the Cash call Futurity (beaten 48 lengths) and BC Juvenile (beaten 16 lengths.) He takes them as far as he goes and might hang on for a minor award. 

OXBOW - A second Wayne Lukas runner, the son of Awesome Again is another with strong tactical speed. The colt got caught 5 wide into the first turn of the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his most recent and did well to hang on and get beaten by just a half length as five horses got to the wire within a length of each other. Prior to the Risen Star the colt was a bang up winner in the Grade III Lecomte over the same circuit as he got the perfect start took the lead out of the gate and widened his margin in a wire-to-wire 11 length romp. The colt also acquitted himself fairly well in the Grade I Cash call Futurity at Betfair Hollywood Park in his juvenile finale. Like many others who are being geared up as Derby qualification points become necessary,  the colt has been asked and has responded in the morning with a six furlong 1:13 4/5 breeze here on March 5 and a best of twenty five half mile bullet in :48 2/5 this past Tuesday. It would also appear that not only Lukas is serious about this one’s prospects as none other than Mike Smith has been engaged to take over for John Court. Despite the possibility that he gets pinned between Super Ninety Nine to his outside and the speed that will break inside of him, this colt has to be considered a major player. 

SUPER NINETY NINE - Apparently the son of Pulpit has finally adhered to the sermon as trainer Bob Baffert has definitely turned him around in his last pair. After a promising start to his career in which he won his debut at Santa Anita in early October and then was a closely beaten second in the Grade III Hollywood Preview (both 7 furlong tests.) Apparently in need of a race, Baffert entered him in an 8 furlong entry level 6 furlong allowance on December 28 and after getting brushed at the start checked out and finished fourth in what amounted to a workout. Following a five week break and three blistering Santa Anita works he drew clear from allowance/optional 80K claimers in a one mile race and followed that up with a trip here for the Grade III Southwest, which he won by 11 widening lengths. Last year’s win by Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby and the 2010 triumph by Lookin At Lucky in this race are only two of Baffert’s 17 wins from 29 starts at this oval (including 16 stakes victories) and this might be another notch on the conditioner’s belt as the 50 qualifying Derby points are crucial. His recent form says he will his works say he will and the trainer’s Oaklawn legacy says he will be very tough to beat. All regular jockey Raphael Bejarano has to do is keep him positioned well early from this tough post and he very likely will do what is expected.

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