The Derby Trail swings down to Hot Springs, Ark. for the $900,000 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on Saturday featuring 11 colts searching for valuable Kentucky Derby points.
The top four finishers will acquire 50-20-20-5 points, respectively, on the Road to the Derby at Oaklawn Park, in the major prep race for the Arkansas Derby. Bob Baffert has won the last three editions of the race and an amazing six of the last seven. Only D.Wayne Lukas’ win with 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge in 2013 prevented Baffert from seven straight Rebel wins.
Baffert returns with another highly-regarded colt, American Anthem, who will run outside of the West Coast in his third career race. Smarty Jones winner, Uncontested, the main speed in the race, will try and bounce back from his sixth-place finish in the Southwest. Royal Mo, will look to win his third in a row, comes out of a victory in the Grade 3 Lewis at Santa Anita.
Baffert was very happy that Uncontested drew a post inside of American Anthem, the talented son of Bodemeister, who won the Arkansas Derby here in 2012.
Here’s a look at the entries for the Rebel – Race 10, Post Time: 7:06 EDT (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Silver Bullion (Lukas, Vazquez, 30-1). Grey son of Pioneerof the Nile steps up in class to race against graded company for the first time. Lukas has won this race twice (1989 and 2013), but his colt will need to make a major move forward to contend with this group.
2 – Uncontested (Catalano, Hill, 10-1). The speedball son of Tiz Wonderful will try and avenge a poor performance in the Southwest for trainer Wayne Catalano. He comes in to the race off two monster bullet works and looks fit to contend. There’s no doubt he’ll be on the lead, but was his Southwest a fluke when he was eyeballed at the top of the stretch? Thinking he may be more of a miler. Speed kills.
3 – Sonneteer (Desormeaux, Eramia, 30-1). Still a maiden, this son of Midnight Lute has hit the board five times in eight tries but hasn’t crossed the wire first yet. Sure picked a tough place to try and break his maiden. Pass.
4 –Petrov (Moquett, J. Ortiz, 9-2). Ron Moquett has had Derby horses the past two years, is this his 2017 edition? He earned four Derby qualifying points for his second-place finish in the Southwest and the Smarty Jones and sits in 26th on the Derby scoreboard. He’s moved forward in each of his four career races and handled the distance, so thinking he continues his positive trending. Contender.
5 – Untrapped (Asmussen, I. Ortiz, Jr., 8-1). Asmussen entices Irad to ship in to ride the son of Trappe Shot, changing course from the Fair Grounds to Oaklawn. Finished second in the Risen Star behind Girvin to pick up 20 Derby points to add to the four he attained in the LeComte. He worked well in his first workout over the surface last Sunday and Asmussen getting Irad to ride is a big advantage. Don’t discount.
6 – Malagacy (Pletcher, Castellano, 4-1). Lightly raced colt dominated his first two career races at Gulfstream, winning by a combined 22 lengths. Pletcher steps into deeper waters with this son of Shackleford who would be testing the Apollo curse if he wins this one and qualifies for the Derby. Pletcher has never won the Rebel, he has his ace Castellano in the irons, so this could be the year. Intriguing.
7- American Anthem (Baffert, Smith, 2-1). The Bodemeister colt out of an A.P. Indy mare should be able to run all day. An expensive purchase ($435K), he’ll be carrying the Baffert magic onto the Oaklawn track. His second-place finish in the Sham behind Gormley, who didn’t show up last week in the San Felipe, earned him four Derby points. He’s Baffert’s best chance at the Derby after Mastery went down to injury last weekend. Hall of Famer Mike Smith rides looking to increase his record four (1986, 1993, 1999, 2014) career Rebel victories. On the fence.
8- Silver Dust (Morse, Lanerie, 15-1). Never a factor in the Southwest, he’s back to test his ability in the Rebel. He’s a son of Tapit out of a Hard Spun mare who broke his maiden in his second career race before heading onto the Derby Trail. Needs a big effort to contend.
9-Appalachian Gem (Van Berg, Stevens, 30-1). There’s a lot of experience within these connections. Van Berg trained the winner in the 1982 Rebel, that’s 35 years ago! Hall of Famer Stevens has never won the Rebel in his storied career. Broke his maiden last out in his third try. All that experience still isn’t going to get this one home first.
10-Royal Mo (Shirreffs, Espinoza, 9-2). John Shirreffs ships his talented colt to Arkansas, possibly looking to get out of California to avoid Mastery, but runs into a talented group here. Won the Lewis impressively at Santa Anita and will look to duplicate that effort in Hot Springs. Big connections, big pedigree. Dangerous.
11-Lookin at Lee (Asmussen, Santana, 15-1). Has quietly amassed 12 Derby points, acquiring qualifying points in each of his last four races, but yet to win against graded competition. Nice son of Lookin at Lucky, but not feeling it for Saturday.
I’m going with the Pletcher touch when it comes to these prep races in the Rebel. Royal Mo should be right there and Petrov will continue to move forwards.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Malagacy; 2 – Royal Mo; 3 – Petrov; 4 – American Anthem
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.