As the once popular Billy Idol song reminds, “With a rebel yell she cried, more, more, more.” Someone with ‘weight’ at Oaklawn Park must have been listening because this year we’ve got two divisions of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes with 19 total runners, including unbeaten 2-year-old champ Game Winner and 3-for-3 stablemate Improbable. Turns out Santa Anita’s loss—a cancelled San Felipe Stakes-- is Oaklawn’s gain as no less than 8 SoCal-based 3-year-olds—4 in each division—will contest the Rebel. Each half is worth $750,000, with from 37.5 to 3.75 Kentucky Derby starting gate points to the top four finishers.
For the last two weeks, in this space, we’ve taken correct stances against short-priced favorites and outlined reasons for pessimism—Hidden Scroll in the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth and Instagrand in the Gotham Stakes. Last week, in the latter race, we connected on a suggested $18 trifecta wager that returned $104.24 for a buck. We misfired with a $24 suggested Tampa Bay Derby trifecta play that included the first three finishers but in the incorrect order—as valuable as a wax furnace.
This week appears to be a different story. Bob Baffert-trained runners own the Rebel Stakes and this year might win both divisions. Improbable is 6-5 favorite in the first half and Game Winner is the identical morning-line price to take the second.
Here’s one man’s opinion of Rebel runners, including several suggested Trifecta wagers:
The Rebel Grade II (First Division)
- Extra Hope 12-1 Mandella Smith
This son of Shanghai Bobby broke maiden in his fourth start. He was well-beaten in 2 stakes after that before rebounding with a strong effort in an allowance race at Santa Anita. That race was over a ‘sloppy’ track, so there’s a question about how well he will handle a dry Oaklawn strip. He was 8 lengths behind Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Expect him to save ground along the rail and possibly muster some late run to finish in the tri or super. He’s improving and that’s a positive 3-year-old factor but those 4 tries to break maiden are a bit bothersome. ‘Hope loses partner Flavien Prat to #8 Galilean, but Hall-of-Famer Mike Smith is a more than capable replacement.
- Long Range Toddy 4-1 Asmussen Court
This son of Take Charge Indy tries every time. That’s a fine attribute for a racehorse. He’s got enough speed to be in front of Extra Hope into the first turn and to establish position along the rail for a ground-saving trip. He’s improved in each race and another forward move puts him in the exacta or trifecta. He had trouble last out—was blocked through the lane—but finished with interest when clear. He may not be as talented as a few of the others, but he’s a gamer.
- Corruz 50-1 Hartman Elliott
This will be his first try over a ‘fast’ main track. He’s had three turf races with two wins to his credit. He also has finished sixth over a ‘sloppy’ track. He will need to move up dramatically on a ‘fast’ track to have an impact. He might, but we wouldn’t bet on it.
- Easy Shot 15-1 Desormeaux Eramia
This Trappe Shot offspring is steadily improving but will need to make another forward jump to have a say in this outcome. His lone win came for an $80k maiden tag. He was fifth and third in a pair of Grade 3 stakes at Santa Anita—with some trouble in each. Additional improvement could get him a small slice of this at a decent price. He has a pair of bullet works over the Santa Anita training track (:49 gd) and at San Luis Rey (1:12 3/5).
- Proud Nation 30-1 Sharp Cabrera
He’s a maiden and seems overmatched in his second start for trainer Joe Sharp after beginning his career in the Steve Asmussen barn.
- Ninth Street 30-1 Asmussen Santana
He has no speed and is making his ninth career start—tops in the field. He’s won two races—both at Delta Downs at just under a mile. He finished ninth in the Grade 3 Southwest. He has no speed. This is a huge step up.
- Classy John 20-1 Stewart Cohen
This Louisiana -bred has speed and finished second beaten a neck in the state-bred Premium Prince going a mile at Delta Downs last out. These are tougher. He’s a very consistent—3 wins and 2 seconds in 5 starts. There’s not a whole lot of speed in this race, so he could hang around up front for a small slice at a huge price. Trainer Dallas Stewart has a reputation for hitting the board in stakes races with huge longshots. However, those bombs usually have been detonated by closers.
- Galilean 2-1 Hoffendorfer Prat
Here’s an interesting Cal-bred son of Uncle Mo. He’s won 3 of 4 starts—all against state-breds. He’s got speed and should challenge Classy John early. Patient, young jock Flavien Prat stays here instead of aboard #1 Extra Hope—both open-length winners last out. Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer seems to have this one ready to do his best. Unlike favored #9 Improbable, Galilean has had a recent race while winning the Cal Cup Derby at Santa Anita. Don’t know if he’s good enough to handle #9 Improbable but he catches the favorite off a layoff and stuck on the far outside. Those are advantages for Galilean, logical second choice in the race.
- Improbable 6-5 Baffert Van Dyke
The heavy favorite is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and will be ridden by up-and-coming star jock Drayden Van Dyke, partners in each of three starts—all wins. Improbable will sit second or third on the outside, a position he successfully maintained in the Los Alamitos Futurity. That day, when Van Dyke asked the question, Improbable responded emphatically. He hasn’t started since that Dec. 8 afternoon, but Baffert may be the best in the universe in getting one ready off a layoff. The son of City Zip has worked well for his return—every 5 to 7 days—with a bullet six furlongs in 1:12 at Santa Anita. The Arcadia track closure forced the cancellation of the San Felipe Stakes and sent Improbable to Los Alamitos for a :59 1/5 final work over a glib strip. He was a handful to pull up afterwards—a good sign. Solidly, he’s the one to beat.
One to Beat: #9 Improbable
Figures Close: #8 Galilean, #2 Long Range Toddy
Could Run Well: #1 Extra Hope, #4 Easy Shot, #7 Classy Shot
Suggested $2 Trifecta Wager ($16)
1, 2, 4, 7, 8
Additional $1 Trifecta Wager ($20)
1, 2, 4, 7, 8
1, 2, 4, 7, 8
The Rebel Stakes Grade II (Second Division)
- Market King 30-1 Lukas Velazquez
This colt has a maiden victory at this track and distance over a ‘good’ surface. That was his fifth start in a maiden race. He returned in an allowance sprint and finished a close third after forcing the early pace. Expect him to go to the front immediately and to ride the rail. He’s got a bullet five-furlong work 1:01 1/5 on March 8. #4 Jersey Agenda probably will force the pace outside of him. Market King jumped forward last out but needs to go faster to be a factor.
- Laughing Fox 15-1 Asmussen Santana
This son of Union Rags has won his last two starts—maiden and first-level allowance races--at this track and distance. Those are positive factors. ‘Fox comes from off the pace and there’s not much early speed in here, so he’ll be up against it from a style perspective. His last victory was a massive improvement over previous efforts, so there’s concern about if he can duplicate that off short rest. He has improved in each start and that’s always a positive sign in a developing 3-year-old. Big price and maybe worth inclusion in lower rungs of exotics.
- Parsimony 30-1 O’Neill Gutierrez
Blinkers go on for this runner and he’d really be a surprise in the winner’s circle. After 7 starts he’s still a maiden with 4 seconds. He exits a runner-up finish going a mile and one-eighth on turf at Santa Anita. He’s fit but doesn’t have much speed in an apparently pace-less race. A lot to ask.
- Jersey Agenda 12-1 Asmussen Ortiz
One of the few speed horses in this field, the son of Jersey Town—a $3,000 sire—sold for $250k at Ocala as a 2-year-old. He’s quick early but caved last out in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. He’ll need to rebound from that effort and move forward quite a bit to threaten.
- Game Winner 6-5 Baffert Rosario
Unbeaten, untied and unscored upon in 4 starts, the 2-year-old champ makes his sophomore debut in the Rebel as the heavy favorite. He’s trained steadily for this race—every 5 to 7 days. However, all of his works have not been sparkling. Stablemate Improbable, favored in the first division, has worked better than Game Winner on occasion. Still, Game Winner has the fastest races on Thoro-Graph sheets. Has he matured since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or will he become one of an illustrious group of 2-year-old champs that have failed to improve as sophs? He comes from off the pace and needs to be ridden like a bicycle—jockey Rosario must keep pedaling for him to maintain his determined run.
- Omaha Beach 6-1 Mandella Smith
This son of War Front has been extremely popular in the wagering—favored in all 5 starts. Last out, he finally broke maiden by nine lengths over a ‘sloppy’ track going 7 furlongs. Did the wet track move him up or did the light finally go on? As with Extra Hope in the first division, Mike Smith takes over for Prat in the saddle. In tit-for-tat fashion Prat replaces Smith aboard #8 Gunmetal Gray. Omaha Beach has been second 3 times with 1 third. If he converts his ‘off’ track performance to a fast track, he fits. If not, a minor award seems most likely.
- Our Braintrust 8-1 Casse Cohen
Maryland-bred Our Braintrust finished third in a 3-horse Grade 3 Withers finish, a neck behind victor Tax. That was at a mile and one-eighth, so he will cut back a sixteenth of a mile in here. He’s fit, reasonably fast and adding blinkers for his second start for Hall-of-Fame nominee Mark Casse—a 19% move for the trainer. Previously, the son of Freud raced for Cathal Lynch. ‘Braintrust is solid--5 starts, 2 wins, 2 seconds and a third. It should be noted that both of his wins came in his first two career starts at four and one-half and five and one-half furlongs!
- Gunmetal Grey 4-1 Hollendorfer Prat
The son of Exchange Rate has faced #5 Game Winner twice before and hasn’t finished within 4 lengths of that foe. What’s liable to change this time? ‘Grey is improving, and #5 Game Winner is coming off a layoff. Is that enough to close the gap? Probably not. ‘Grey has no speed in a race that lacks early pace, a negative for him. However, he has a top jock and keeps coming in the lane, so he could pass a few to get a slice.
9. Kaziranga 30-1 Asmussen Eramia
Blinkers go on for this Asmussen runner—one of four from that barn in this division. Makes sense that he and others may have been entered specifically to expand field size in order to accommodate a split of the race at 19 entrants. Don’t see him threatening.
- Captain Von Trapp 15-1 Asmussen Vazquez
The hills may be alive but the ‘Captain and his family seem up against it in here. He’s been favored in 4 out of 5 starts with 2 wins and 2 seconds. He has no early speed, so he’ll need to drop back and attempt to close late. There’s not much speed in here, so those tactics might be futile. A big plus for him is that he’s 2-for-2 over the Oaklawn main.
One to Beat: #5 Game Winner
One That Might Do It: #7 Our Braintrust
Worth Exotic Looks: #2 Laughing Fox, #6 Omaha Beach, #8 Gunmetal Gray
Suggested $1 Trifecta Ticket ($24)
2, 5, 6, 7, 8
2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Additional $1 Trifecta Ticket ($16)
2, 6, 7, 8
2, 4, 6, 7, 8