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Oaklawn Park: Rebel Stakes Round-Up

Secret Circle beats Optimizer in 2012 Rebel Stakes.

With a third straight Rebel Stakes (G2) victory sealed thanks to Secret Circle, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was eagerly looking forward to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) next month at Oaklawn.

 

The 3-year-old son of Eddington produced a slightly newer running style for the 1 1/16th-mile race by stalking the pace from farther behind than he’d ever been in his previous starts. His ability to rate was very    encouraging to Baffert as Secret Circle tries to prove he belongs among the top Triple Crown contenders.

 

“The win was exciting and the way he did it was promising,” said Baffert by phone Sunday morning with reports from his assistants that Secret Circle was doing well. “It was a good schooling for him and I think he should get a lot out of it, although my guys tell me he was hardly blowing when he got back.”

 

Secret Circle races for Watson, Pegram and Weitman, the same owners behind the first of Baffert’s consecutive Rebel victors with champion Lookin At Lucky in 2010. Baffert followed up last year with The Factor then kept the roll going last month when he and jockey Rafael Bejarano swept both divisions of the Southwest Stakes (G3). Secret Circle had the faster of the two divisions last month and now has the Rebel, leaving little doubt about which race will be next for the 5-for-6 Kentucky-bred.

 

“He’s run well there and likes that track,” said Baffert. “If everything is good over the next few weeks, we will definitely come back.”

 

Baffert will point Castaway, the other Southwest division winner, to the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) outside El Paso this week. He also sees things with Secret Circle that need to be worked on back in his California lab.

 

“He keeps shutting it down too early,” he said. “He kind of pulls himself up and throws out an anchor. I thought he was just going to blow by (pace-setter Scatman), but he waited a little bit. We can fix that with competition and try and work that out of him.”

 

This latest Rebel win brings Baffert’s career record at Oaklawn to 13 wins in 21 starts. The Arizona-native has won with four of his last five starters in Hot Springs, with the lone loss coming when The Factor finished seventh in the last year’s Arkansas Derby. In the last three years, Baffert is 10-for-13 with three Rebel wins, three Southwest victories, an Azeri Stakes (G3) tally and two other six-figure stakes wins.

 

Post Rebel Round-Up

 

Nearly every runner in Saturday’s $500,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) returned in good order according to their handlers Sunday morning, with the exception of MarchFore Thoroughbreds Adirondack King who developed colic late this morning.

 

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was playfully jawing with Rebel winning co-owner Mike Pegram immediately after Secret Circle narrowly held off a late charge by Bluegrass Hall’s Optimizer. Pegram, who came within a nose of winning the Triple Crown in 1998 with Real Quiet, acknowledged that Lukas’s runner almost caught them, with Lukas offering congratulations, but a promise that “you know the races get longer from here.”

 

That enthusiasm was still in evidence Sunday morning in the Lukas barn with the Arkansas Derby squarely in their sights for a rematch April 14.

 

On the flip side was the disappointment trainer Mike Lauer was feeling for owners James and Mary O’Grady and their third-place finishing Scatman. A game runner-up to Secret Circle in the second division of the Southwest Stakes last month, Scatman took a clear lead into the stretch of the Rebel, only to flatten out in the final furlong.

 

“It felt like we were going to run away once we put them away,” said Lauer, who reported the colt was fine overnight. “He ran good but he didn’t run great. He kind of gawked a bit and didn’t finish. We will give him a week, see how he does and see where we go from here.”

 

Lauer was a furlong from the biggest win of his 35-year training career, but the O’Gradys were quick to praise his work to put the lightly regarded Scatman in his position, and the retired couple from North Carolina plan to continue to enjoy the ride through Hot Springs this winter and spring.

 

“The whole time has been very good,” said James O’Grady, whose nom-du-course is JEOG Racing LLC. “The people here have been great, they’ve got a good track and the hospitality is special. We’ll head back home to check the messages on the phone. We need a service because this horse has gotten us so many calls.”

 

Trainer Allen Milligan described the fourth-place finish of Stephen Brown’s Jake Mo as “awesome,” and declared the son of Giacomo likely to take a swing in the Arkansas Derby.

 

“I thought he ran a great race to finish where he did. We just came from too far out of it,” said Milligan, who leads the trainer’s standings this season. “He had to steady a little bit, but he finished strong. Talent-wise he seems like he’s a notch below a great horse, but then everything we’ve thrown at him he’s done. We thought about maybe going somewhere a little easier, but he keeps doing enough to give (the Arkansas Derby) another shot.”

 

Cyber Secret continues to confound trainer Lynn Whiting with an inability to relax in his races. Immediately after the fifth-place finish, Whiting indicated he would consider taking blinkers off the Charles Cella runner in his next race and his assistants reported the colt was fine Sunday morning.

 

Trainer Danny Peitz reported that his sixth-place finisher Najjaar was “doing fine” Sunday morning and that if things kept going well the next month, they’d take a serious look at the Arkansas Derby.

 

Shortleaf Stables’ Atigun had “really no excuses” according to assistant trainer Philip Bauer Sunday morning after finishing eleventh other than perhaps not being fully cranked after missing the Southwest with a hoof problem.

 

“We’ll wait a couple days and see if anything pops up,” said Bauer, who oversees the Oaklawn string for Ken McPeek. “We’re obviously disappointed in that effort. Maybe he fooled us into thinking that he was ready after missing the race. We’ll regroup and see what the next step is.”

 

Mitch Dennison, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, said that team was disappointed by the eighth-place finish by Sabercat in his first start of the year and the last-place result for Unbridled’s Note, but said there were no apparently problems with either colt Sunday morning.

 

Trainer Kenny Smith ordered Dream Walkin’ Farms’ Reckless Jerry scoped following that runner’s 10th-place finish. The son of Cactus Ridge had been second in the Smarty Jones Stakes and third in a Southwest division in his last start.

 

Adirondack King had been doing well after finishing seventh according to trainer John Servis, but then began to show signs of colic around 8:00 am and was treated with the usual medications to relieve the condition.

 

 

 

 

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