D. Wayne Lukas has Stone Bird in the March 15 Rebel (gr. II) at Oaklawn.

D. Wayne Lukas has Stone Bird in the March 15 Rebel (gr. II) at Oaklawn.

Skip Dickstein

Stone Bird Final Derby Hope for Lukas

A field of nine is set for the $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park March 15.

Last month, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said his final chance at making a splash in the 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) rested with late-blooming Silver Edition. After the Silver Deputy colt turned in disappointing efforts in both the Swale (gr. II) and Southwest (gr. III) stakes, it seemed Lukas was off the trail.

Not so fast.

The four-time Derby winner has one final bullet and will fire it March 15 at Oaklawn Park. Impressive allowance winner Stone Bird will try to step into the classic picture when he takes on eight rivals in the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II).

But if Stone Bird is to make himself a Derby contender, he will have to conquer some pretty tough customers, including graded stakes winners Anak Nakal and Z Fortune. The Rebel, a steppingstone to Churchill Downs for Curlin, Lawyer Ron, and Smarty Jones over the past few years, is run at 1 1/16 miles.

Lukas started thinking Derby for Stone Bird after consecutive one-mile wins at Oaklawn. Stone Bird opened his career 0-for-4 as a 2-year-old, but began turning it around when he broke his maiden by a neck Jan. 21. A little more than two weeks later, the bay colt buried an allowance field by 5 1/2 lengths in front-running style.

“He started getting it together when he went around two turns,” Lukas said. “He was a slow-developing colt, but he really started improving this spring. I thought he merited a chance at the Rebel.

“He has a classic pedigree (by Derby winner Grindstone out of the Kris S. mare Bird Cage, a half-sister to grade I Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone) top to bottom. He has done everything right since he has been here. He’s the picture of health and a physical specimen, so I’m looking for him to step up in the Rebel.”

Stone Bird is a Kentucky homebred of Marylou Whitney, who campaigned Birdstone, trained by Nick Zito. He will break from post three under Joe Johnson, who has won the Rebel twice. When asked, half-jokingly, if he was trying to sneak into the Derby picture, the always affable Lukas had this to say: “I’m not trying to sneak. I’d rather kick the door down. I don’t like crashing the party, I prefer coming in through the kitchen door.”

Anak Nakal and Z Fortune likely have enough graded earnings already for a trip to the Derby, but will be looking to solidify their positions March 15.

Anak Nakal won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) by a half-length last November, but then turned in a flat eighth-place performance in his 3-year-old debut, the Feb. 24 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. The Victory Gallop colt has worked well twice at Palm Meadows Training Center since then, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.80 March 7.

Owned by Four Roses Thoroughbreds and trained by Zito, Anak Nakal arrived in Arkansas March 11. Joe Bravo will ride for the first time.

Zayat Stables’ Z Fortune will be the likely morning-line favorite. The son of Siphon ran well in his last effort, finishing two lengths behind stablemate Pyro in the Feb. 9 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds. The Steve Asmussen trainee won his previous three starts, including a 2 3/4-length score in the Jan. 12 LeComte Stakes (gr. III).

Z Fortune arrived in Arkansas the week of March 2 and turned in a workout at Oaklawn March 10, breezing four furlongs in :50.20. Garrett Gomez will ride from the outside post.

Asmussen's second entry is King's Silver Son, who broke his maiden Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds.

Also to consider is Sierra Sunset, second to Denis of Cork in the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes (gr. III). The son of Bertrando has remained at Oaklawn since then, turning in two works, including a blistering five-furlong effort Feb. 29 when he was clocked at :59.20, the best of 30 works that day.

Sierra Sunset is 3-3-1 from 10 starts, including a victory in the California Cup Juvenile last year. The California-bred is trained by Jeff Bonde. Christopher Emigh will be in the irons.

$300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Isabull,  3 Colt 115, Timothy T. Doocy
2. Sierra Sunset, 119, Christopher A. Emigh
3. Stone Bird, 117, Joe M. Johnson
4. Sacred Journey, 117, Calvin H. Borel
5. Golden Yank, 119, Larry J. Sterling, Jr.
6. He's Eze, 117, Luis S. Quinonez
7. King's Silver Son, 115, Shaun Bridgmohan
8. Anak Nakal, 119, Joe Bravo
9. Z Fortune, 122, Garrett K. Gomez