Five of the top six finishers of the two divisions of last month’s Southwest Stakes (gr. III) are back for $500,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II), which drew a competitive and jam-packed field of 13 3-year-olds.
The 1 1/16-mile race March 17 at Oaklawn Park includes the top three finishers of the second division of the Feb. 20 Southwest, including the victorious California shipper Secret Circle, runner-up Scatman, and third-place finisher Adirondack King. Jake Mo and Reckless Jerry, second and third, respectively, in the first division, also return for Oaklawn’s final prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
Bettors are also likely to heavily back Sabercat, who has already punched his ticket to the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and will be making his season debut. Several new shooters will take their crack at the $300,000 winner’s share, including the locally-based duo of Atigun and Najjaar, both entering off allowance victories at the distance.
Post time for the much-anticipated Rebel is set for 5:48 p.m. CDT.
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Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman’s Secret Circle is likely to go off as the top choice based on his half-length win in the Southwest. The son of Eddington overtook Scatman in the stretch to post his fourth win in five lifetime starts for trainer Bob Baffert. His lone setback was a runner-up finish in the Jan. 7 Sham (gr. III) at Santa Anita.
Baffert shipped Secret Circle back to California after the Southwest and worked him twice at Santa Anita before putting him back on a plane to Arkansas earlier this week. Regular rider Rafael Bejarano will have the mount on the 122-pound high weight who was bred in Kentucky by Willmott Stables. They will break from post 7.
Secret Circle will be routing for the first time in his career.
"He bounced out of his race really well," Baffert told DRF. "I think he's the kind of horse that's just starting to wake up a little bit. He's done everything just on natural talent.
"Eventually we're going to find his limitations. He's going to have to win the Rebel for me to think further distance, so we'll see what he does, if he takes another step forward distance-wise."
Like they were in the one-mile Southwest, Secret Circle and Scatman will probably be part of the early pace. Scatman, trained by Mike Lauer for JEOG Racing, was making his stakes debut in the Southwest after sprint wins at Keeneland last fall and Oaklawn in January.
John Servis used Arkansas as the route for Smarty Jones during his 2004 Triple Crown run, and is back with MarchFore Thoroughbreds’ Adirondack King. He was beaten six lengths in the Southwest and has some catching up to do, but the son of Lawyer Ron has hit the board in all seven of his career starts including three wins. If he’s going to pull off the upset, Adirondack King will have to do it from post 13 under Stewart Elliott.
“His last workout we just wanted to let him finish up well,” Servis said of his four-furlong move March 12. “Just stretch his legs, because he’s pretty ready but I didn’t want him to gallop out so much. He didn’t give us much choice, because it was still pretty strong. We are ready. Just one day to go."
Baffert’s other Southwest winner, Castaway, will wait for the March 25 Sunland Derby (gr. III) for his next test, but locals Jake Mo and Reckless Jerry return for the Rebel. Stephen Brown’s Jake Mo was beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Castaway, but was running well at the end for trainer Allen Milligan at odds of 22-1. The Giacomo colt has two wins in eight starts, both of them coming at Prairie Meadows as a juvenile.
Reckless Jerry, owned by country music star Toby Keith, has spent most of the winter at Oaklawn for trainer Kenny Smith. He was second by a neck in the Jan. 16 Smarty Jones before his solid effort in the Southwest. He should be forwardly placed under new rider Joe Rocco Jr.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Sabercat could challenge Secret Circle for favoritism even though he is making his first start in nearly four months. The son of Bluegrass Cat has reeled off three consecutive wins including the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) last November as an 8-1 outsider.
Also with a maiden win and a decisive victory in the Garden State Stakes, both at Monmouth Park, he has earned the right to be considered a legitimate Derby contender. Trainer Steve Asmussen may not have him fully cranked for his comeback effort, but with a steady set of works this winter in California and a four-furlong move March 12 at Oaklawn, he should be right in the mix.
Asmussen will also saddle Mike McCarty’s Unbridled's Note, who was a troubled ninth in division 1 of the Southwest.
Trainer Ken McPeek is expecting a big effort from Shortleaf Stable’s Atigun, who won a Jan. 15 optional claimer at Oaklawn by a neck. The Istan colt missed the Southwest due to a quarter crack issue, but it was minor and he only had to skip one work. He’s won two of his past three races and has the looks of an improving horse.
“He’s coming into the race super. We got the quarter crack sorted out and we think his next two starts are going to be pretty significant. He acts like he’s moving forward,” McPeek said. “He could be in the thick of this Triple Crown. I think you’re going to see him run big. There are a couple of speed horses in there and we hope it sets up well for him (from off the pace).”
Shadwell Stable’s homebred Najjaar is entering off consecutive scores at Oaklawn—a maiden win in January and an allowance tally less than two weeks ago. The son of Jazil, trained by Daniel Peitz, is also a colt that likes to run from off the pace and so post 12 should not be too much of a disadvantage for him. Calvin Borel will ride once again.
Pee H Dee and Ring It Up, both off of the board in the Southwest, are a coupled entry for owner James McIngvale and trainer Chris Richard.
$500,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II, Race 10, 5:48 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Unbridled's Note (KY), C Hill, 115, S M Asmussen
2. Scatman (KY), L S Quinonez, 117, M E Lauer
3. Cyber Secret (KY), R Albarado, 117, L S Whiting
4. Optimizer (KY), J K Court, 115, D W Lukas
5. Jake Mo (KY), M C Berry, 117, A Milligan
6. Sabercat (KY), C S Nakatani, 119, S M Asmussen
7. Secret Circle (KY), R Bejarano, 122, B Baffert
8. Atigun (KY), T J Thompson, 117, K G McPeek
9. Reckless Jerry (KY), J Rocco Jr., 115, K P Smith
10. Ring It Up (KY), L Wade, 115, C Richard
11. Pee H Dee (KY), I Ocampo, 117, C Richard
12. Najjaar (KY), C H Borel, 117, D C Peitz
13. Adirondack King (KY), S Elliott, 117, J C Servis