It may have taken five starts for Omaha Beach to earn his first win, but it only took one for the son of War Front to rocket from potential player to key contender on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Fox Hill Farms’ Richard Mandella trainee turned back 2018 champion 2-year-old male Game Winner, handing the 2018 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner his first defeat, in the second division of the Grade 2, $750,000 Rebel Stakes March 16 at Oaklawn Park.
The local prep race for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, and ultimately the Kentucky Derby, was split into two divisions by Oaklawn in response to the cancellation of the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
“Coming out of a maiden race, it’s a big step up,” Mandella said of Omaha Beach, who won for the first time Feb. 2 going seven furlongs at Santa Anita. “Game Winner ran really good. He hadn’t run in a long time. He’ll probably be tough next time, but mine just broke his maiden. He might be tougher, too.”
Omaha Beach is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Charming, the dam of champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi and a daughter of multiple Grade 1 winner-turned blue hen producer Take Charge Lady. He made his first three starts on the turf, resulting in a third and a pair of seconds, before Mandella shifted him to the main track this year. He ran second going a mile on dirt Jan. 1, then soared by nine lengths before his Rebel bid.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
“We always thought he was a really good horse. Being a War Front, I thought maybe he was going to want turf. But I was wrong with that. He wants dirt,” Mandella said.
Omaha Beach broke sharply from post-position six under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the Rebel, and was third, three deep, as Market King took the field through an opening quarter-mile in :23.54. Smith wasted no time in taking control with a move midway through the backstretch, and Omaha Beach took over by a head to run a half-mile in :47.29.
Game Winner, sixth early under Joel Rosario, mounted a willing four-wide bid around the far turn, and was second after three-quarters in 1:11.82, but Omaha Beach already had a length advantage and widened that margin to two in early stretch.
From the head of the lane to the finish, the two separated themselves from the field and engaged in an all-out battle, with Game Winner even edging a nose in front through a 1:36.39 mile. But Omaha Beach battled back to his inside in the nick of time and claimed the victory by the slimmest nostril in a final time of 1:42.42.
It was 8 1/4 lengths back to Market King, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who held for third.
“I was real pleased —real pleased,” Lukas said of the Into Mischief colt’s effort. “I think we’re still in the learning process. I think he’s still a little bit heavy. I’m trying to tighten him down and everything, but this is a step in the right direction. I was really pleased with the ride.”