Run at 1 1/16 miles, the $900,000, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn Park is the final steppingstone to the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 14. The race is worth 50-20-10-5 points on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve for the top four finishers.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who saddles Solomini this year, has won six of the last eight editions of the Rebel (Cupid, 2016; American Pharoah, 2015; Hoppertunity, 2014; Secret Circle, 2012; The Factor, 2011; and Lookin At Lucky, 2010). Fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas (Sporting Chance) and future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher (Magnum Moon) took the other two renewals during that time span with Will Take Charge (2013) and Malagacy (2017), respectively.
Horses to bag the Rebel Stakes-Kentucky Derby double - Smarty Jones (2004) and American Pharoah (2015).
Only three of the 11 runners entered in the Rebel competed in the locally run Grade 3 Southwest Stakes last time out: Combatant (second), Sporting Chance (third) and Zing Zang (fifth).
Here are five questions that must be answered ...
1. Will Bob Baffert continue his Rebel dominance?
As noted earlier, Baffert has won six of the last eight editions of this race, which is nearly unconscionable. This year’s stable representative is Solomini
, who has already proven his class by hitting the board in a trio of Grade 1 races. We haven’t seen him since the Dec. 9 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity
, in which he defeated stablemate McKinzie
and eventual Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes
victor Instilled Regard
before being disqualified and placed third for some bumping in the stretch.
There certainly is some class in Solomini’s family. By Curlin, he’s out of the unraced dam Surf Song, who is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to champion Midshipman ($1.5 million) and $550,000-earner Fast Cookie, who is the dam of Frosted ($3.9 million in earnings).
Joe’s answer: Solomini has been unspectacularly solid so far, but only time will tell if he takes the next step. He can certainly win the Rebel, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion.
2. How strong is Todd Pletcher’s hand this year for the Triple Crown races?
In 2017 on the road to the Triple Crown, Pletcher moved his horses around like a chess master, winning the Southwest with One Liner, the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby with Tapwrit, the Rebel with Malagacy, the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming, and icing the cake with Tapwrit’s score in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes.
Off a ground-attacking win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, Audible is currently his leading contender. He’ll suit up next in the March 31 Florida Derby. Noble Indy has a third in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford on his résumé, and Vino Rosso has been somewhat competitive in the Tampa preps. Marconi ran a sneaky-good fifth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. Hazit will be one of the probable favorites in Saturday’s Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks on the synthetic Polytrack surface at Turfway Park. We’re still waiting on the promising Impact Player to run back, and he has a few other impressive maiden winners who are playing catch-up.
Magnum Moon, Pletcher’s Rebel representative, is very intriguing. He’s by the rock-solid stallion Malibu Moon, but the dam’s side of the family is tough to gauge. He’s perfect from two starts, with the second of the two victories coming in in a two-turn allowance race at Tampa. He did everything right that day and seemingly has much, much, more to give.
Joe’s answer: Right now, his hand has potential, but the flop can do him a world of good.
3. How strong is the Rebel field?
Joe’s answer: Of the 11 horses entered, five have yet to score a Kentucky Derby point and four others have two or less. With 14 and 12 points, respectively, Solomini and Combatant would need only a third (20 points) to feel good about their chances to make the run for the roses on the first Saturday in May.
The lack of points earned does not speak to the potential quality of the field, in fact, top to bottom this may be the deepest Kentucky Derby prep run to date. Of the 11 entered, only Pryor and Bode’s Maker look like outsiders.
4. Who are some of the under-the-radar Rebel horses we should be aware of?
Joe's answer: We’ve already discussed the merits of Solomini and Magnum Moon, and I think we already have a pretty good gauge on Combatant, High North, Sporting Chance, and Zing Zang. That leaves us with three horses …
Higher Power – On Jan. 13, the last time we saw this son of Medaglia d’Oro, he won a two-turn allowance race at Oaklawn. The other division of that oversubscribed race, which was two seconds faster, was won by eventual Risen Star upset winner Bravazo. A half-brother to millionaire router Alternation, his dam, Alternate, was a top grass router who banked over $550,000. He’s bred to run all day, and I like the progression he’s made so far.
Title Ready – This son of More Than Ready showed some promise as a 2-year-old, but he took his game to the next level last out when adding blinkers for the first time, winning a local, two-turn allowance. He got the run of the race that day, and he has more of a miler’s pedigree. He should be competitive on Saturday, but it’s ambitious to think he’s a genuine dirt router.
Curlin’s Honor – This $1.5 million 2-year-olds in training purchase is perfect from two starts, both sprints. By Curlin, his dam, Franscat, was 2-for-20 ($84,885) during her racing career, and she’s been a solid, yet unspectacular producer. The pedigree doesn’t warrant the sales price, but he certainly looks the part. He overcame a troubled trip to win off a 4 ½-month layoff at Fair Grounds, and now picks a super-tough spot for his two-turn debut. With no restricted 3-year-old allowance races to choose from, the connections decided the Rebel was the right move. I think he’s a horse with a bright future, but this might be a case of too much, too soon.
5. Who wins the Rebel and why?
Joe’s answer: Magnum Moon has the most upside, and he’s ready for this test. Solomini is rock solid and there’s no reason to think he won’t run another big race. I love the route pedigree on Higher Power and the way he’s been handled by Donnie Von Hemel. Sporting Chance should take a solid step forward off a useful third in the Southwest. For gimmick purposes, it’s tough not to use the ultra-consistent Combatant, and Zing Zang, an imposing individual who did not take to the sloppy track last out.
Joe's Rebel picks: 1. Magnum Moon 2. Solomini 3. Higher Power 4. Sporting Chance