Undefeated Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity winner Improbable leads a nine-horse field in the first division of the Grade 2, $750,000 Rebel Stakes on March 16 at Oaklawn Park. Making his 3-year-old debut and returning from a little more than three months off, Improbable is very likely to be the public’s top choice in the betting on the strength of his perfect 3-for-3 record. Galilean is 3-for-4, his only loss coming by a neck in the Golden State Juvenile Stakes last fall, and he enters the race off a “ridden out” win in the California Cup Derby on Feb. 18. Another with a very competitive record is Classy John, who has never been worse than second in five races and who just missed by a neck in the LA Bred Premiere Night Prince Stakes in February. Extra Hope finished third behind Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity last year but returned in his 3-year-old debut at the end of January much improved when easily winning by three lengths. Another horse proven in stakes is Long Range Toddy, winner of the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes in December and most recently a troubled third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. Easy Shot was only a half-length from the runner-up in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes in his most recent start, while Ninth Street finished second in the Big Drama Stakes in January before a ninth-place finish in the Southwest. Corruze and the maiden Proud Nation round out the field.
Although Improbable has an unblemished record in three races, I strongly believe Galilean is the one to beat. Galilean has the benefit of a race in 2019, having won the California Cup Derby last month with a 101 Equibase Speed Figure. Galilean earned a 111 figure when he won the King Glorious Stakes prior to that in December, which is the best figure earned by any horse in the field. Better still, Galilean has potential to improve significantly off last month’s effort in his second race following two months off. While Improbable probably is more physically mature now than as a 2-year-old, he is unlikely to be as physically fit coming back off three months of rest as Galilean is having raced just one month ago. The patterns of improvement of both outstanding colts are similar – Galilean having earned a 93 figure winning his debut last September then improving to 97 and 111 before the layoff, compared with Improbable having earned a 98 figure in his September debut then 104 and 103. Comparing their efforts visually as well, the two colts appear to have all the tools to go on and compete favorably on the Road to the Derby. Galilean won his last two races, both stakes, by a combined margin of 13 1/2 lengths, compared with the combined 12 ¼-length margin of victory for Improbable’s last two wins, also in stakes. Another factor in favor of Galilean is he was “ridden out” to victory by 4 ½ lengths in the California Cup Derby last month, suggesting he has not peaked by any means. As such, we could see another big effort good enough to win this division of the Rebel Stakes.
Long Range Toddy is the last of three that I think have the bulk of the probability to win this division of the Rebel. Following his fourth-place debut effort last summer, Long Range Toddy has been in contention in every one of his five subsequent starts, including when winning the Springboard Mile Stakes with a 98 figure last December and when missing by a neck in the Smarty Jones Stakes with a 102 figure in January. However, it was his troubled effort in the Southwest Stakes last month that has me believing with a clean trip he has potential to post the upset. In the Southwest, Long Range Toddy was advancing nicely up the rail from sixth on the turn and into the stretch when he got stuck behind a wall of horses. Jockey Richard Eramia, who has been replaced by Jon Court for the Rebel, elected to stay on the rail rather than move laterally and possibly lose momentum. By the time Long Range Toddy had a path to run, the leaders were well ahead. Still, Long Range Toddy finished well for third in that race and demonstrated a competitive spirit that must not be taken lightly in the Rebel.
For exotic wagers such as the exacta and trifecta, I would not ignore possible longshot Easy Shot from the fabled Calumet Farm and trained by Keith Desormeaux, whose Sonneteer finished second in the 2017 Rebel at odds of 112-1. Easy Shot earned a 98 Equibase Speed Figure when third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes last month, a race run on a sloppy track and with just a five-horse field. Nevertheless, Easy Shot rallied in the stretch to challenge eventual runner-up Gunmetal Gray before settling for third. In doing so, he showed a decent amount of both physical and, perhaps more importantly, mental ability in a big race for 3-year-olds. Extra Hope is one more horse to mention as a contender. Although lacking the credentials of the three main contenders and although he finished a well-beaten third (by eight lengths) behind Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity in December, Extra Hope returned as a much better horse in his 3-year-old debut last month when winning easily and earning a 105 speed figure. Two members of the Hall of Fame – jockey Mike Smith and trainer Richard Mandella – believe the colt is worthy of trying his hand on the Derby trail, and that may be enough combined with his competitive last race effort, to consider him as a contender as well.
The rest of the field (with best representative Equibase Speed Figures): Classy John (101), Corruze (83), Ninth Street (84) and Proud Nation (85).
Long Range Toddy