Score it 3-in-a-Row for Bob Baffert

Secret Circle Does it Again at Oaklawn 

Secret Circle, Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano remained polished in their return to Oaklawn. This time the victory is beginning to give this colt a little more attention on the Kentucky Derby Trail because he keeps getting better and racing well as the distance continues to increase. As for Trainer Bob Baffert it’s three in a row times two. The win makes it his third consecutive Rebel Stakes win accompanied by his third consecutive win in as many Kentucky Derby Graded Stakes Preps at Oaklawn. (Southwest 1st and 2nd Division – Rebel). If he doesn’t return Secret Circle to Hot Springs for the Arkansas Derby then I will be very surprised and have to question that decision. Based on his experience with this identical situation though I think he’ll opt to be back in Arkansas.

In 2010 it was Lookin at Lucky, also owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, that scored Bob Baffert his very first Rebel Stakes victory. After the race the colt returned to California and the Santa Anita Derby where he ran a gamely race but didn’t have enough to win again and finished 3rd. From there he was off to the Kentucky Derby. It ended with a disappointing 6th but he bounced right back and spoiled a Triple Crown bid by Super Saver with a convincing Preakness Stakes victory.

Chances he’ll return – 99.5%. If so it sets him up to follow Smarty Jones’ trail to Kentucky in 2004 when he swept the Arkansas Preps before lighting up the big stage at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Another horse in recent memory that comes to mind when talking about winning consecutively at the same track prior the Kentucky Derby is Barbaro. Prior to his Derby dominance he torched it at Gulfstream with back to back wins in the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby. While these are a couple of examples of win streaks that started before the Kentucky Derby and stayed alive after, there’s still work to do and a very healthy crop of 3-yr-olds to beat in order for Secret Circle to do the same.

The biggest take away in the Rebel Stakes for Secret Circle is that he showed he’s capable of continuing to rate well as the distance increases. The way he showed that he is maturing the most is that Rebel was the first race so far in his career that he wasn’t racing in at least 2nd place by the ¼, ½ or ¾ marker in the race. In the Rebel Secret Circle broke clean but was settled into 4th by Rafael Bajarano before the quarter pole. And that’s where he stayed before making his move in the final turn. By the time they made it to the top of the stretch Secret Circle assumed 2nd place and began to track down a relentless Scatman who was determined not to let the outcome in the Southwest Stakes repeat itself.

He dug deep but Secret Circle’s charge was too aggressive and Scatman became the victim of yet another bid and then another. This time it was also 27-1 longshot Optimizer who came barreling down the stretch after going 6 wide at the top of the lane. Ridden by Jon Court and trained by D. Wayne Lukas it was a bid that was filled with effort but Secret Circle still had enough to hold him off. Scatman would hang in for third which should keep his derby hopes firmly in place. As for Optimizer, 2nd place in the Rebel was a much-needed result as his Graded Stakes earnings were in need of an uptick.

Coming in at $81,375 and well outside the top 20, the 2nd place prize of $100,000 is a welcomed addition that vaults him into the top 15 and sets him up nicely for his next Kentucky Derby prep, most likely the Arkansas Derby. As for Scatman he keeps plugging along after a slow start on the trail. This being only his 2nd career graded stakes race – 2nd in the Southwest – brings his total earnings to $100,000 which means only one thing; in order to keep his Derby Hopes alive he will almost be required to finish in either of the top two spots at which ever graded stakes race his connections choose. Since Oaklawn is the only place he has raced in 2012, all indications point to trainer Michael Lauer keeping him here for the Arkansas Derby as well.

As for the heavily regarded 2-yr-old Sabercat there’s work to be done. I did not expect him to return to winning after such a long layoff since his last race (11/19) but I was anticipating more of a challenge and a better finish than 8th. Trained by Steve Asmussen, there’s a lot of options for where he’ll race again next but because he scored $600,000 in graded stakes earnings in the Delta Jackpot, winning that prep is not needed for Kentucky Derby qualification. His ticket is punched for the first Saturday in May but to reappear on a majority of Top 10 Derby Rankings, he will need a solid rebound. I can’t totally write him off based on this performance so I expect to have a much clearer analysis of his chances after I see him race again next.

So the Rebel is in the books and the Arkansas Derby is shaping up to be a very exciting Grade 1 prep on the Kentucky Derby trail. Secret Circle proved that he belongs in the Kentucky Derby contender conversation and his connections proved that they love the dirt at Oaklawn. Congratulations to Secret Circle and your connections, we expect to see you again nowhere else but Hot Springs, AR a place that you leave with a temperature no less than scorching.

To see a full Chart on the Rebel Stakes via Equibase click Here and for a post race interview with Secret Circle Owner Mike Pegram uploaded by the Paulick Report click Here.

Written by: Little Brink

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