Even-money favorite Secret Circle handed trainer Bob Baffert his third consecutive victory in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO), taking over from Scatman in mid-stretch and holding off a late run by 27-1 longshot Optimizer to score the $500,000 event March 17 at Oaklawn Park.
The 3-year-old son of Eddington notched his fifth win in six career starts with his three-quarters of a length victory, winning at two turns in his first try. Rafael Bejarano guided the bay colt, who covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.55 on the fast dirt.
Secret Circle is owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman, who also won the Rebel for Baffert in 2010 with Lookin At Lucky. The Hall of Fame trainer also won the event last year with The Factor. Baffert swept both legs of Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 20, winning with both Secret Circle and Castaway.
Secret Circle returned to his California base after winning the one-mile Southwest by a half-length. Coming into the Rebel, Baffert said the colt was training even better than he did in his previous trip to Arkansas, and he was right.
Secret Circle was bred in Kentucky by Willmott Stables and is out of the Dixieland Band mare Ragtime Hope. He was bought for $165,000 at the OBS 2011 selected sale of 2-year-olds in training, with Flying Fish, agent, consigning him.
An early duel up front by Scatman and Unbridled's Note helped Secret Circle, who sat behind the two pacesetters along with Cyber Secret. The opening fractions were :23.43, :47.09, and 1:11.62, with Scatman and Unbridled’s Note matching strides down the backstretch.
Scatman, who finished a half-length behind Secret Circle in the Southwest, put away Unbridled’s Note coming off the final turn and with Luis Quinonez aboard opened up a clear lead at the top of the lane. His main threat was Secret Circle, and despite drifting out at the top of the stretch, the favorite overtook Scatman nearing the sixteenth pole. A belated but strong late burst by Optimzer and Jon Court made it close at the end.
Optimizer, ninth in the Feb. 25 Risen Star (gr. II) for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, was 1 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Scatman. Jake Mo was fourth in a field of 12.
“I’m glad they made the decision to bring him back here. It was the right decision. He was really ready today. The key was getting him to relax. He has lots of talent," Bejarano said.
Secret Circle earned the second graded stakes victory of his career, and his fourth stakes win. As a 2-year-old he won the Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita and the inaugural Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs. His only setback came by a half-length in the Jan. 7 Sham (gr. III) at Santa Anita.
The colt upped his earnings to $818,990.
“It looks like he will (keep going)," assistant trainer Jim Barnes said. "Bob will decide all that, but we did what we had to today. He got the mile-sixteenth and showed he could rate a bit. I’ll be getting my room for the Arkansas Derby tomorrow.”
The winner paid $4, $3.20, and $2.80. Optimizer returned $15.60 and $8.80, and fillied out a $123.20 exacta (8-5). The $1 trifecta (8-5-3) was worth $295.50.