By Gene Kershner
The Derby trail turns to Hot Springs, Ark., this weekend for the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes to be run over 1 1/16 miles. Thirteen colts will try to blaze a path to Louisville. The field includes some extremely promising colts, including trainer Bob Baffert's The Factor, a speedy horse stretching out to 8 1/2 furlongs for the first time.
This race, unlike other prep races thus far, is one that has produced Classic winners over the past 10 years. Lookin at Lucky and Curlin, both Preakness winners, came out of this race victorious, as did Smarty Jones in 2004. One of Post Time's all-time favorite race horses, the late Lawyer Ron, also claimed victory in the 2006 Rebel.
This year's 51st edition of the Rebel should be a good one with various horses jockeying for graded earnings and a spot in the gate on May 7. Let's take a look at the entrants for Saturday's Rebel at Oaklawn Park (Race 10) with analysis (trainer and jockey in parentheses):
1 - Archarcharch (Fires, Court) - The winner of last month's Grade 3 Southwest and currently 19th in graded earnings with $150,000, a first or second place finish would go a long way in getting this one into the Derby. The son of Arch is ridden by Jon Court, who has never ridden a horse in the Derby and would fulfill a dream of his to ride his first Derby horse. Shows a nice workout last week and draws the rail, which has been winning at a 20 percent clip.
2 - Alternation (Von Hemel, Quinonez) - Impressive allowance winner on the Southwest undercard. He shows a couple of decent works in his past performances since his last race. Post Time put him in his Road to the Roses fantasy stable and thinks he has the tools to win this one.
3 - Dreaminofthewin (Trout, Berry) - Hasn't missed the board in five outings, but this crew is tougher than any he's faced to date. He also shows a nice workout but I can't see him overcoming the class of horses entered in here.
4 - Picko's Pride (Robertson, Ocampo) - Comes in with my favorite angle (third off the layoff) where his trainer wins at a 29 percent rate. He was blocked at the quarter pole in the Southwest. Has every reason to improve. Leave him off your tickets at your own peril.
5 - JP's Gusto (Petalino, Dominguez) - Probably favorite, finished second by a length to Archarcharch in the Southwest in only his second race on dirt. Posted a bullet on March 13; he's the one to beat on Saturday.
6 - The Factor (Baffert, Garcia) - Intriguing speed horse who is tough to handle. Trainer Bob Baffert knows what he's doing, although many racing experts think a mile is his limit. The son of War Front (a champion sprinter in his own right) is the wild card in the race and will most likely be on the front end. Depends on the pace he sets and if anyone duels him into submission. Siding elsewhere.
7 - Caleb's Posse (Von Hemel, Razo) - Winner of the $100,000 Smarty Jones early in the Oaklawn meeting. He had a disappointing Southwest, finishing sixth after getting caught in traffic. Just not fast enough to beat the cream of this crop.
8 - Saratoga Red (Lukas, Thompson) - D. Wayne won this race way back in 1989 with Mansastash Ridge and enters Red after a maiden win on a sloppy Oaklawn track. This is quite a jump in class right to a graded stake. His sire, Eddington, was a good race horse. We'll wait and see on this one.
9 - Sway Away (Bonde, Gomez) - Finished strong and almost caught The Factor in the final strides in the 7-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita Park. A wise guy horse that has generated some significant buzz with his last performance and started showing up on Derby lists everywhere (but mine). His pedigree suggests he can get the distance, and his sire Afleet Alex ran very well on this track. Tough to dismiss.
10 - Elite Alex (Ritchey, Borel) - Took a lot of money at the window in the Southwest and burned his backers, finishing a disappointing third. Another Afleet Alex colt runs third off the layoff. Am I willing to give him another chance? On the fence.
11- Glint (Gorder, Saez) - Winstar sends out the next two colts, this one a Sharp Humor, who ran in the 2006 Derby and is a freshman sire. Impressive in all three starts to date sprinting, this will be his first try at a route, in a graded stake. Not confident enough to back this one.
12 - Bluegrass Jam (Fires, Baze) - Post Time was a big fan of his daddy, Bluegrass Cat, who finished second in the 2006 Derby and Preakness and won the Haskell. His speed figures aren't quite up to the others in here, but he comes in third off the form cycle and has reason to improve. Use underneath in exotics.
13 - JW Blue (Dutrow, Rocco) - Anthony Dutrow's colt sports a win at the distance in allowance company. He posted an impressive workout earlier in the week. The outside post is troubling, but having difficulty tossing him.
Post Time Selections:
1 - No. 5 JP's Gusto
2 - No. 2 Alternation
3 - No. 4 Picko's Pride
Good luck and let's go cash some tickets!