A full card of great horse racing and a beautiful spring day set the stage for 36,000 people to enjoy Rebel Stakes day at Oaklawn Park. The apron was full of fans anxiously awaiting the outcome of the first race, and the crowd continued to grow until the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes. The total wagering handle was a Rebel Stakes record.
The infield was open, and families enjoyed sitting on blankets under the blooming redbuds, listening to live music, and participating in a myriad of activities for children, including a petting zoo and bounce houses. Weather permitting, the infield will be open for the four remaining Saturdays of the season.
“Based on all of the great things I had heard about Oaklawn over the past couple of years, I was almost afraid that there was no way for it to live up to the hype,” Tordjman said. “What I found was that Oaklawn not only met the hype, it far exceeded it. From the activity in the infield to the packed grandstand, there’s just an electricity at Oaklawn that’s palpable. Then you have the racing which, of course, is top notch.”
The undercard included two stakes races: the Grade 2, $350,000 Azeri Stakes for fillies and mares 4 years old and older and the $250,000 Essex Handicap for horses 4 years old and older.
Terra Promessa, who won her five previous starts at Oaklawn, was the 3-10 Azeri favorite. However, she did not get a good trip and finished fifth. Streamline, who had finished third to Terra Promessa in her two previous starts, pulled an upset with jockey Chris Landeros in the irons for trainer Brian Williamson and owners Nancy and Cartwright Vanier. She paid $26.20 to win.
Next up was the $250,000 Essex Handicap. Mor Spirit was the 1-2 favorite with Mike Smith up for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Michael Lund Peterson. This time, the favorite won by 2 ½ lengths in his first trip around the Oaklawn oval. His time of 1:41.62 was the fastest the Essex has been run in 30 years.
The ninth race provided a break from stakes action, and then anticipation was high for the Rebel Stakes, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep race awarding 50 qualifying points to the winner. All eyes were on American Anthem, trained by Bob Baffert, who had campaigned six of the last seven Rebel winners. American Anthem was the 8-5 favorite. However, the lightly-raced 3.30-1 second choice, Malagacy, won by two lengths in his first race around two turns.
Jockey Javier Castellano rode the son of 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Sumaya U.S. Stable. Pletcher won the first leg of the Arkansas Triple Crown, the Southwest Stakes, with Malagacy’s stablemate One Liner. He said Malagacy’s next target will target will be the third leg, the Arkansas Derby, where the trainer will attempt a sweep.
Longshot Sonneteer finished second and picked up 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, paying $58.20 to place. Third place Untrapped was awarded 10 points, and fourth-place finisher Petrov received five points.
Oaklawn has four more weeks of racing, culminating on April 15, Arkansas Derby day.