Two days after a wild and rough running of the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park on Presidents' Day, connections for the top four finishers are making tentative plans for their 3-year-olds to join the next dance in the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) March 19.
Race winner Archarcharch , owned by Bob Yagos, is doing well two days after emerging from a pack of horses to take the one-mile contest by a length over J P's Gusto , trainer Jinks Fires said. The 14-1 upsetter bounced back from a disappointing effort in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 17 with the victory. The Southwest result surprised many, but not Fires.
"I never lost confidence in him after that last race," said the trainer Feb. 23. "The track was just so tiring that day and when he came back with a little filling in his hock, I knew if we could get that cleared up, he was going to be fine. I've felt sure he was a good horse from the beginning, from the first day I worked him."
Fires indicated the Rebel would be next for the son of Arch and that chances were good he would also saddle Bluegrass Jam and/or Bluegrass Bull in the race as well.
The latter two, both owned by Patricia Blass, are exiting losses in tough allowance races. Bluegrass Jam was a close third in an off-the-turf allowance race at Fair Grounds in New Orleans Feb. 11, while Bluegrass Bull faded to fourth in a key allowance race on the Presidents' Day undercard, finishing behind the highly-ranked Alternation and Dreaminofthewin.
Trainer Joe Petalino reported that Gem Stables' J P's Gusto has "come back strong" after rushing to grab the place spot once able to clear traffic in the Southwest. Unfortunately, Baccari Racing Stable's Brickyard Fast, who helped set the fast pace, emerged from his ninth-place finish with a condylar fracture in his left front leg. He was being shipped to the Oakridge Equine Hospital near Oklahoma City where Dr. Michael Major was scheduled to perform surgery.
"The owners should want to go to the Rebel off that race," said Petalino of J P’s Gusto, a grade I winner who has now finished second in three of his last four starts. "It was a tough trip, but we're okay coming out."
Third-place finisher Elite Alex was "good" and had "no problems" according to trainer and co-owner Tim Ritchey. The son of 2005 Arkansas Derby (gr. II), Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Afleet Alex has hit the board in both his starts as a 3-year-old, amassing excuses in both efforts.
"We didn't get the trip we needed, but that's horse racing," Ritchey said. "It doesn't always go the way you hope, but he got a good education for sure."
Picko's Pride, surprise fourth-place finisher after making a late charge under jockey Isreal Ocampo following early-race trouble, will now try to give trainer Mac Robertson his latest up-and-coming longshot in the Rebel since shocking the field in 2009 with Win Willy.
"I don't know if we could have beaten the winner, but we were so adamant about dropping to last out of there, that we ended up way out of it," Robertson said. "He waited a little bit, but he galloped out really well and with the winners. We'd have loved to have gone a mile and a sixteenth that day, and that's what we get next time. He's just a little horse, but sometimes those little ones surprise you. They can run farther than you think."
Trainer Larry Jones reports Brereton C. Jones' Yankee Passion strained a muscle in his left rear leg after finishing fifth in the Southwest. He was relieved it wasn't something worse, but says the colt will be "out a little while" and is no longer under considered for the Rebel and likely the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 16.
"It's the muscle on the inside of his thigh, but that's all it ended up being," said Jones. "When he first got back, I was worried it could be worse, but he's going to be alright. Hopefully, we can get him back jogging in about a week. He's probably done for the races down here, though."
The Donnie K. Von Hemel barn reported that both Caleb's Posse , the unlucky sixth-place finisher in the Southwest, and allowance winner Alternation are doing well. There was no word on their status for the Rebel.