Submitted by Hank Goldberg on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 5:00 PM
But I See Many More Angles To The Two Divisions Of The Rebel Stakes.
After the unfortunate suspension of racing at Santa Anita and the cancellation of last weekend’s San Felipe Stakes. The Derby Prep plans of a number of trainers and Bob Baffert in particular were turned inside out.
However, Hope Still [Hot] Springs Eternal as the Hall of fame conditioner has shipped leading Derby prospects Improbable and Game Winner to Arkansas where they will race in separate divisions of the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
There are other options for three-year olds on the Derby trail but for Bob Baffert’s undefeated pair of Improbable and Game Winner, this switch to Oaklawn for this Saturday was a must. The two colts, each of whom is in just about everyone’s Top 3 Derby prospect list, will be making their first races as 3-year olds, so regardless of their juvenile success it is time they get started.
Improbable, who is 3-for-3, including the Street Sense Stakes and Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity drew the outside post position 9 in Race 8, the first Division of the split Rebel Stakes. It can be argued that Improbable drew the easier of the divisions and has been installed as the 3-5 ML favorite.
It remains to be seen whether the ML maker at Oaklawn is drinking the Kool-Ade regarding the colt’s billing, but I suspect that the contention runs a bit deeper than the public might suspect.
Lining up right inside Improbable is another California shipper, Galilean, a Jerry Hollendorfer trainee who is listed at 3-1.
The California bred son of Uncle Mo is 3-for-4 lifetime after winning his last two in dominating fashion vs. restricted state-bred stakes foes. While he still needs to prove it in open company, one only has to harken back to 2014 and the exploits of Cal-bred Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome to draw confidence.
I certainly won’t be ignoring venerable trainers Richard Mandella or Steve Asmussen who will be represented in division one.
Mandella enters Extra Hope. The colt has plenty of foundation offer six juvenile races that culminated in a third place finish behind Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity. The colt began his 209 campaign with a confidence building allowance win at the end of January and has worked well.
Asmussen saddles stakes veteran Long Range Toddy, a winner of the Springboard Mile in December and has placed in the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes here at Oaklawn during his emerging 2019 preparation.
Also facing the starter in division one is Keith Desormeaux’s Easy Shot, who was last seen finishing third behind the well regarded Mucho Gusto, who Baffert is sending to the Sunland derby and Gunmetal Grey, who will draw plenty of interest here in division two of the Rebel.
Completing the field are Corruze, Proud Nation, Ninth Street and Classy John.
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Part of the pre-races intrigue is likely to be a difference of opinion as to which division is more difficult. I will leave that to the talking heads. For me, each division is a unique wagering opportunity and I expect to take a good sum of profit out of each
The undefeated juvenile champion Game Winner gets star billing in the second division, in which 10 runners will compete in Race 10.
The Rebel will be his first start since eclipsing the Grade 1 BC Juvenile by 2 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs in November. He had previously filled his 4-for-4 resume with wins in the Grade 1 Del mar Futurity and Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes.
Like his stablemate Improbable, Game Winner has been installed south of even money at 4-5 by the ML oddsmaker.
I would certainly not dismiss the exhibited talents of this son of Candy Ride, but despite his long series of typical fast, lengthy Baffert works, I still have suspicions in the back of my mind that these long periods of no racing and light prep schedules might have a fresh horse for the Kentucky Derby, which has been a recent trend, especially for the California based colts that have won 3 of the last 4 Derby championships. But I also believe there is something to be said for racing and conditioning.
Facing Game Winner will be Gunmetal Gray who was second in the American Pharoah Stakes and fifth in the BC Juvenile as a 2-year old. He has two efforts on his sheet, with a win in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes and a second in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis (G3).
A possible second choice in this division is Omaha Beach, a distant maiden winner last out for Richard Mandella. He has been posted at 3-1 on the ML despite that last out win being his first after four narrow losses in succession. The son of War Front began his career with a trio of grass races (two at a mile, one at a mile and a sixteenth) and was proficient in each. For those taking a positive view one might look to War Of Will, who also began his career on the turf before moving successfully to the dirt and is currently a Top 5 or better Derby prospect.
Our Braintrust leaves New York and heads south after coming up a neck short in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. The Mark Casse trained son of Freud was also second (to begin his 2018 campaign) in the Jerome Stakes behind Mind Control, who ran a bang up rail trip second in last Saturday’s Gotham Stakes.
Never to be left out of any party and never to be afraid to find out just what he has by throwing them into the deep end, Steve Asmussen has four horses in the second division, including last out impressive allowance winners Laughing Fox and Jersey Agenda. The latter was well thought of entering last month’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes here but was bumped hard on the first turn and was all in by the time they reached the stretch.
Asmussen’s other two are the outside post runners Kaziranga and Captain Von Trappe. And what would a mid-west Stakes race be without participation by D. Wayne Lukas, who has 30-1 Market King, a son of the well regarded sire Into Mischief. Market King has on just once from six career starts, yet it happens to be the only time he has gone two turns.
Also making the trip from California will be the Doug O’Neill trained Parsimony, who is still winless after seven career starts and is not Derby nominated.
There will be plenty of opinions as to the number of potential Derby prospects competing in these two Rebel Divisions. I would suggest that you check out my 1-2-3-4 selections in each before you make a single bet.