Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park is basically a prep for a prep, as it’s a stepping stone to the April 11 Arkansas Derby which is a bridge to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 2. It’s also just a Grade 2 stakes, but with a purse of $1 million, the 1 1/16-mile Rebel has attracted a strong and balanced field that should make it one of the more important preps of the year.
Rebel Stakes (G2)
1. Nadal (5-2): When trainer Bob Baffert sends a horse to Oaklawn Park, gamblers take note. Baffert has won the Rebel six times, and one of them was 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh. Nadal certainly has the credential to give Baffert win No. 7 as he possesses keen early speed. Having the rail is an advantage and the likely battle on the front end between Nadal, No Parole and possibly Basin could decide the outcome.
2. Excession (30-1): He’s one of three entrants trained by Steve Asmussen and clearly the weak link. He was eighth and seventh in two stakes since breaking his maiden and it’s unlikely he will fare much better here.
3. Basin (3-1): He looked like a major 2-year-old when he won the Runhappy (what else?) Hopeful Stakes for Asmussen. Unfortunately that proved to be his last race at age 2 and this will serve as his 3-year-old debut. He has some talent but he may need a race after six months on the bench.
4. Silver Prospector (7-2): The third leg in Asmussen trifecta, he should be the biggest threat. He didn’t fire on a wet track in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in his 3-year-old debut, but bounced back on a dry track with a one-length victory in the Southwest Stakes. If the pace gets too hot, it will only enhance his chances.
5. No Parole (8-1): It’s showtime after he demolished Louisiana-breds by 34 lengths in his first three starts. His speed figures are tad below the others and after breezing on the front end in those three romps, he will receive a stiff challenge on front end from Nadal, who may have too much early zip for him.
6. Three Technique (7-2): He was a game second in the Smarty Jones and then was given some time off to point for the race. His works indicate he’s on the upswing and his running style says he should be a major threat against these.
7. Coach Bahe (30-1): Picks a tough spot off a maiden win in mediocre time. He’ll need a lot of help to be a factor here and getting Lasix may not be enough.
8. American Theorem (6-1): He’s also making his 3-year-old debut after closing out with a runner-up finish in the American Pharoah Stakes. Being a son of American Pharoah, it would be a nice touch if he wins, but this is a tough spot to return from a hiatus of nearly six months.
THE PICK: Nadal
LIVE LONGSHOT: American Theorem