The $600,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) drew a competitive field of 11 sophomores seeking points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Strategically placed on the calendar March 16, the 1 1/16-mile Rebel attracted horses trained by titans Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Wayne Lukas, and Steve Asmussen. Between them, they'll send out six starters.
Expected to go off as the favorite is the Baffert-trained Super Ninety Nine, who made the local contingent look very ordinary when he wired his field by 11 1/4 lengths in the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes (gr. III), run over a sealed sloppy track. For a full feature on Baffert's success at Oaklawn, click here.
The son of Pulpit, owned by Tanma Corp., has won his last two starts, earning triple-digit Beyer speed figures each time. But his task shouldn't be as easy in the Rebel as it was in the Southwest: he drew the far outside post under Rafael Bejarano and 122 pounds and has two speedy colts directly inside him, including one of the horses to beat—Oxbow , who drew post 10.
Oxbow is stabled at Oaklawn with Lukas, but is coming off back-to-back races at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, winning the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) on the front end by 11 1/2 lengths and finishing a close fourth in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) after getting caught five-wide on the first turn. Mike Smith replaces Jon Court on the son of Awesome Again , who also carries 122.
Directly inside Oxbow is Title Contender, who used to be trained by Baffert but has been transferred to the barn of Wayne Catalano by owners Gary and Mary West, who also have the late-running Treasury Bill breaking from post 2 for trainer Ron Ellis. Title Contender is another with good early speed, setting the pace in a recent second-place finish in an allowance/optional claimer behind Asmussen's Rebel starter Carve. Title Contender will be ridden for the first time by Luis Quinonez and carries 115.
Sitting pretty in post 4 is the Pletcher-trained Delhomme, who has not started since his close third-place finish in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack. The son of Dixie Union, owned by WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing, is another with excellent front-running speed and could get the jump on the three speedsters breaking from the outside. Garrett Gomez will ride for the first time. Under the conditions of the race, Delhomme will carry only 115 pounds and will be getting seven pounds from Super Ninety Nine and Oxbow.
Looking to take advantage of any speed duels will be Treasury Bill, making his first start around two turns. The son of Lemon Drop Kid surprised Ellis by running so well in sprint races, and now gets a chance to stretch out, which his pedigree suggests he should relish. Treasury Bill, who will be ridden by Joe Talamo under a 115-pound impost, broke his maiden impressively going 6 1/2 furlongs on a wet-fast track before rallying from last to finish second in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II). He will need to improve his Beyer numbers, having a run a career-high 84 in the San Vicente.
Another who should appreciate a contentious pace is the aforementioned Carve, who will be making only his third career start. He was claimed by Asmussen for $30,000 on Jan. 25 from Al Stall Jr. and the Claiborne Farm—Adele Dilschneider partnership. The son of First Samurai won that race easily and then came back to defeat Title Contender, making up three lengths in the final furlong. Corey Nakatani, who won last week's San Felipe (gr. II) aboard Hear the Ghost, will be aboard for the first time.
If Super Ninety Nine should get cooked in a speed duel, Baffert has an able stretch runner in Den's Legacy, who will be making his 11th career start. He won the Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the grass and placed in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I), Robert B. Lewis (gr. II), and Sham Stakes (gr. III), along with two other stakes. In his last three starts, he's finished in the money behind Violence , Goldencents, and Flashback, so he's been keeping good company.
Lukas' other entrant is Will Take Charge, who won the Smarty Jones Stakes but was off the board in the Southwest. The other Southwest victim is Texas Bling, who won the Springboard Mile at Remington Park and was second by only a neck to Will Take Charge in the Smarty Jones.
Rounding out the field is Stormy Holiday, fourth in the six-furlong Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn, and Hardrock Eleven, who was far up the track in the Risen Star after finishing second in the Allen's Landing at Sam Houston Race Park.