The Morning Line: Rebel Stakes

Secret Circle Comes Back to Oaklawn

Secret Circle wins the Southwest - 2nd Division

The stakes are set for a very lucky day. Whether you decide that wearing green or drinking green beverages will summon the luck of the Irish, you are still going to need your handicapping skills ready for the G2 $500,000 Rebel on St. Patrick’s Day. The field for the 1 1/16 mile test will feature a packed house of 13 in the starting gate, all of which are hoping for a little bit of luck themselves. Leading the charge of contenders is a combination that put the finishing touches on another lucky day of racing when they capped off the Southwest Stakes Double by scoring them both; Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano.

The horse, Secret Circle, performed remarkably well here at Oaklawn his last time out and made Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano look even better. Though it was reported earlier that Castaway, their first winner in the Southwest double, was listed as probable for the Rebel, Baffert has elected to keep him in California until the Borderland Derby at Sunland next weekend. So it’s up to Secret Circle to once again finish the deal. Based on this colt’s racing career so far, it’s a deal that he is definitely capable of closing.

Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Secret Circle enters the Rebel with 4 lifetime wins in only 5 starts after finishing his 2-yr-old season a perfect 3 for 3. After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at 6 Furlongs it wasn’t until January that Baffert stretched him out and tested him in his first race at 1 Mile, the G3 Sham Stakes. Although he was taken down by Out of Bounds a 2nd place finish proved to be a good enough preparation for his second try at that distance.

The victory in the Southwest kept his Derby Hopes alive but the debate still presses on – can he handle the Kentucky Derby distance? There’s no doubt about this horses talent, he’s a Breeders’ Cup Champion and practically undefeated. Baffert gets a lot of credit for his handling of the colt because he has raced extremely well in his career and has been fun to watch. But when it comes to the Kentucky Derby not even the most talented colts in the world are even considered contenders because of how far they can run. But I have found it very hard to dismiss Secret Circle because I think that Baffert still has hopes for this colt on the first Saturday in May. The Rebel will be his first ever race over 1 mile so I expect us to see if he’s on track towards the derby or if it is more likely that he will be steered away from Triple Crown racing distances. At this point I’m not sure if even Baffert knows so we’ll see.

Handicapper Advantage: He’s Fast – His win in the Southwest Stakes and time of 1:37.08 earned him a Beyer Speed Rating of 102, the best in the field. And his recent work shows he’s still holding prime form – 6f in 1:11.06 at Santa Anita on 3/10.

A horse on the move in his 3-yr-old season and ready for another battle with Secret Circle is Scatman. After leading the second Southwest division through the first 6 furlongs in 1:11.25 he was unwilling to give down the stretch and forced Secret Circle to earn it. The race was his Graded Stakes debut and he responded to the challenge like a horse that is ready for his first ever graded stakes win. Tomorrow will also be his first at a distance over 1 mile so this race will be a key stepping stone to the Arkansas Derby and potentially the Kentucky Derby as well. By Scat Daddy – Hit it Here Café and Trained by Michael Lauer, jockey Luis Quinonez returns to the irons.

Handicapper Advantage: Oaklawn – This is a very familiar place since he’s been stabled and training here since the meet began in January. Having a nose for the course and a jockey that has one too can be a big plus in a crucial moment.

Rounding out those that are returning after a successful trip in the Southwest are Adirondack King who finished 3rd in the Second Divison followed by Jake Mo and Reckless Jerry who finished 2nd and 3rd respectfully in the First Division. All three of these horses are on the Kentucky Derby radar but will need to make a big move soon in order to avoid being on the qualification bubble. They are graded stakes tested but winless inside of those races.

Between them I give the nod to Adirondack King. Son of Lawyer Ron, this colt represents a pair of connections affiliated with 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones. Trained by John Servis and under Stewart Elliot this tag team is all too familiar with the road from Arkansas to the Blue Grass State. Even though they will need to overcome the obstacle of breaking from the far outside and post 13 I see this race as another step in the right direction and solid prep for the Arkansas Derby.

Handicapper Advantage: Hitting the boardSo far in his career he’s never missed and in his last two races he’s finished 3rd behind two winners that are highly regarded on the Kentucky Derby trail – Prospective and Secret Circle.

Now to a horse that is making his 3-yr-old debut after finishing his 2-yr-old campaign on fire; a perfect 3-3. Sabercat has already punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby by winning the $1 Million G3 Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes his last time out on 11/19. The fact that he won by 4 lengths is only part of the story while how much ground he covered puts his win into perspective the most. After being blocked in the second turn Sabercat was sent to the back of the 10 horse field and was faced with the challenge of gaining a lot ground through traffic. So going from last to first for the win earned him a lot of credit because not only did he overcome adversity but he drove home to win with authority.

Son of Bluegrass Cat and Miner’s Blessing, Saber Cat will be making his Oaklawn debut. Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Cory Nakatani the colt was stabled at Santa Anita but was brought to Oaklawn early for his final training on 3/12, a 4F Breeze in 50.80. Expect Saber Cat to see a lot attention at the betting windows but there are skeptics out there as well. Despite his impressive win streak the pressing question that needs to be answered is how well will he respond after the layoff.

In my opinion he doesn’t necessarily need to drop another star-studded performance but contending is a must. The layoff sets the Rebel Stakes up to be the first of two Kentucky Derby Preps in 2012 but since his graded stakes earnings are already so high ($600,000) qualification is already in hand. What that also means is that Steve Asmussen’s plan for a peak performance on May 5th doesn’t require a win here either. In the meantime if that peak arrives early it will be in his next race and not the Rebel. So unless this colt is more talented than I’m giving him credit for I expect him to be in the hunt but out bid in his return. I’m betting on the race following the Rebel as the prime indicator on his Kentucky Derby chances.

Handicapper Advantage: The Win Streak – Until he’s beat it remains the key.

So who’s it going to be? I’ve got Secret Circle as the horse to beat. What’s going to be improbable if he does is that it will become Bob Baffert’s 3rd consecutive Rebel Stakes victory (Lookin at Lucky ’10 & The Factor ’11). Because Baffert has proved that he’s on a roll at Oaklawn I think it’s very reasonable that he keeps it going with Secret Circle. However, because his odds may present too small a margin for payouts I’m going to place a side bet with a horse that I feel has a legitimate chance to upset both Secret Circle and Sabercat. It came down to Adirondack King and Scatman but after a hard second look I really like the direction Scatman is going – Scatman across the board.

Grade 2 $500,000 Rebel Stakes | 1 1/16 Mile | Dirt | Race 10, Post Time: 5:48

#     PP      Horse                           Jockey                Trainer             Odds
1     10      Ring It Up                  L. Wade               C.  Richard          20-1
1A   11      Pee H Dee                   I. Ocampo          C.  Richard          20-1
2      1       Unbrideled’s Note    C. Hill                  S. Asmussen       20-1
3      2       Scatman                     L. Quinonez       M. Lauer              8-1
4      3       Cyber Secret              R. Albarado        L. Whiting          15-1
5      4       Optimizer                  J. Court                D. W. Lukas       30-1
6      5       Jake Mo                     M. Berry              A. Milligan          20-1
7       6       Saber Cat                  C. Nakatani        S. Asmussen        5-1
8      7       Secret Circle              R. Bejarano        B. Baffert             9-5
9      8       Atigun                        T. Thompson     K. McPeek           12-1
10    9       Reckless Jerry          J. Rocco Jr.        K. Smith               12-1
11   12      Najjar                          C. Borel               D. Peitz                6-1
12   13      Adirondack King      S. Elliot               J. Servis               6-1

*Because Ring It Up was part of a dual entry, there are no changes in betting numbers or choices

Rebel Stakes and the Kentucky Derby

Raced since it’s inauguration in 1961 it wasn’t until 1983 that a Rebel winner finally became the first to go on and wear the roses. Following Sunny’s Halo in ’83 was Smarty Jones in 2004. And that’s where it still remains; only 2 Rebel winners have won on the first Saturday May. So the Rebel Stakes is on the lookout for number 3 but are any of these contenders up for the challenge?

Good Luck to all of our Rebel Stakes entries and their connections. We wish them all a safe trip and look forward to seeing them again along the derby trail. In honor of this Kentucky Derby Prep and the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Legened David Bowie, we send you out with a classic: Rebel, Rebel – Cheers

Written by: Little Brink


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