Today’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park was supposed to be the race where a new shooter would step up and announce themselves as a real player in the chase for the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Clearly favored Secret Circle and his ubiquitous trainer, Bob Baffert, had other plans.
In a race that looked eerily similar to the faster division of last month’s Southwest Stakes, Secret Circle, under rider Rafael Bejarano, sat comfortably in the catbird’s seat behind the early pace set by Unbridled’s Note and Scatman. As his old rival from the Southwest, Scatman, took over the lead, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint victor sprang into action on the outside. As he has done now in each of last three victories, Secret Circle wavered a bit down the lane, well of the rail, but had more than enough class to put away Scatman at the sixteenth pole. It looked like he was home free from there for an easy victory, but longshot Optimizer put in a spirited rally late, while also running a less than straight course, to get somewhat close to the even-money choice at the wire.
The final margin was three-quarters of a length, as Secret Circle completed the 1 1/16 miles of the Derby prep in 1:44.55 over the fast track.
The win marked not only the third consecutive Rebel win for Baffert, he previously won with Lookin at Lucky and The Factor the past two years, but it also was the third straight victory for the popular trainer on Oaklawn’s Derby trail, as he swept both halves of the Southwest, Castaway being the other winner. After the Southwest, many wondered which horse Baffert would bring back for the Rebel. The decision to come with Secret Circle was given full approval by a happy Bejarano after the race.
“I’m glad they made the decision to bring him back here. It was the right decision. He was really ready today. The key was getting him to relax. He has lots of talent.”
The talent is obvious, and say what you will about Secret Circle’s perceived ability not to handle the distance; the plain truth is this horse keeps winning. In six lifetime races, the son of Eddington now has five wins, with four of them coming in stakes races. His only defeat was a narrow second place finish to the now injured Out of Bounds, and that came in his seasonal debut in the Sham Stakes.
As for the next step for the Michael Pegram owned Secret Circle, assistant trainer, Jim Barnes may have tipped their hat as to a return trip to Hot Spring. “It looks like he will (keep going). Bob will decide all that, but we did what we had to today. He got the mile-sixteenth and showed he could rate a bit. I’ll be getting my room for the Arkansas Derby tomorrow.”
If it is indeed the million dollar Arkansas Derby next month, and then the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby after that, I have little doubt that his ability to get the distance will be questioned once again. I probably will be one of those questioning his chances, but one thing is for sure, Secret Circle is a hard horse to knock. Today in the Rebel, he was the best horse, as he has been just about every time he has run.
Photo courtesy of Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park