Stalking the pace nicely under a beautiful ride by Christopher Emigh, the 3-year-old son of Bertrando took over as he came out of the far turn and powered down the stretch for a resounding victory. The Jeff Bonde trainee completed the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.88, securing his first graded stakes.
Sierra Sunset entered the Rebel off a second-place effort in the Feb. 18 Southwest (gr. III), when he was 2 ¼ lengths back of Denis of Cork after being outrun in the stretch. The bay colt was off the board in his two races prior to that, the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park and the San Rafael (gr. III) at Santa Anita, both on synthetic surfaces.
Making the jump from the maiden ranks, King’s Silver Son made a solid run from the middle of the racetrack to briefly challenge, but had to settle for second. Isabull, seventh in the Southwest, was another 2 ¾ lengths back in third. Golden Yank was fourth in his sophomore debut.
Going off as the 7-10 favorite, Z Fortune ran a disappointing fifth. The son of Siphon had won three of four starts coming into the Rebel, including the Jan. 12 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Nick Zito, who saw his juvenile champion War Pass finish last about an hour earlier in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), watched another classic contender run poorly in the Rebel, as Anak Nakal finished seventh, 1 ¾ lengths in back of He’s Eze.
Sacred Journey set the early pace under Calvin Borel, posting a :22.07 opening quarter. Emigh positioned Sierra Sunset right behind the pacesetter, while Stone Bird and He’s Eze were in the next group.
Sacred Journey led through a :46.88 half-mile and continued to show the way after three-quarters in 1:11.61. But as they came out of the turn, Sierra Sunset was moving closer to the front from the three-spot. Emigh sat motionless on Sierra Sunset as he struck the lead at the top of the stretch. Isabull was also coming with his four-wide move.
Sierra Sunset had a clear 3 ½-length lead with a furlong to go, and although King’s Silver Son passed Isabull in upper stretch and posed a slight threat in the final sixteenth, Sierra Sunset had plenty left to get to the wire as the comfortable winner.
"We thought he'd be sitting third or fourth, but two of the horses we thought would show pace didn't," Bonde said. "We've been working on getting him relaxed, and he settled nicely on the backside. He really showed some late kick.
"I thought he was sitting on a big race, but you never know. He has been working good, his coat is good, and his weight is good. He is a versatile horse, and can run on anything, but he has been more effective on dirt."
Going off as the 4-1 second choice, Sierra Sunset paid $10.40, $3.80, $3.80. The exacta (2-7) with 17-1 King’s Silver Son returned $173.60. The $1 trifecta (2-7-1) netted $1,105.40.
Out of the Pirate’s Bounty mare Toot Sweet, Sierra Sunset was bred by Martin J. Wygod. He is owned by a partnership of Philip Lebherz, Al Mariani, George Schmitt, and Carol Wirth. He was purchased for $40,000 at the California Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association 2006 Northern California yearling sale.
Sierra Sunset won the final two efforts of his 2-year-old campaign, both stakes. He captured the six-furlong Bay Meadows Juvenile Sept. 15 by eight lengths, and came back to take California Cup Juvenile on the Santa Anita Cushion Track by a half-length Nov. 3.
The Rebel win netted Sierra Sunset $180,000. Bonde said it will be on to the April 12 $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. II) from here, and then hopefully to Churchill Downs.
"It's our owners' hopes and dreams to go to the Derby, so this is very nice for us," Bonde said.