The group assembled for tomorrow’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park may not occupy the penthouse apartments of this year’s Down and Derby rankings, but once again I must give major props to the Hot Springs oval for their continued success in drawing quality fields for their series of stakes on the Kentucky Derby trail. Matter of fact they are not only offering quality, but also quantity to the local fans. It seems that everyone and their brother wants to run their Derby hopeful at the track that has attracted such sophomore stalwarts as, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Summer Bird, and Lookin at Lucky in recent years. Last month’s Southwest Stakes was so popular that Oaklawn had to run two, and now the Rebel sports a cast numbering a baker’s dozen. All good news, but what does it mean to those of us hoping to make a few dollars on the outcome? Plenty, provided my prognostication proves plum perfect.
I will be taking a stand against the favorites tomorrow, and here’s why:
Sabercat is 5-1 on the morning line, but I expect him to be significantly lower than that. The Steve Asmussen trained son of Bluegrass Cat was one of the hot horses at the end of 2011 after two big wins in stakes at Monmouth Park and Delta Downs. While he may be a legitimate horse to watch down the road, I think this is too tough a spot to play him first time out this year, especially at low odds. By the way, at Monmouth, he beat a weak field, and at Delta, he was greatly benefited by a way too fast early pace. If Sabercat wins tomorrow, I will not.
Secret Circle is the morning line favorite for white hot conditioner, Bob Baffert. This is your horse to beat, and the most likely horse to hit the board, but my feeling is that’s all he will be doing … hitting the board, not winning. Why do I say this? You’ve all seen what I’ve seen, Secret Circle has not looked as smooth down the lane as a horse primed to appreciate the extra distance should. With the prospect of an extra sixteenth, and the likely possibility of a more crowded early pace to deal with, I will take my chances on him weakening late.
Scatman was a longshot I liked when he ran a bang-up second to Secret Circle in the faster division of the Southwest. No longer a secret, look for Scatman’s odds to go down and his early pressure to be increased. I expect him to have things even tougher this time around. Najjaar is another who I think will take a lot of money off his two consectutive ‘out of the clouds’ wins over the Oaklawn strip, but frankly, I don’t know he’s fast enough to do much more than a minor share in the Rebel.
So you know who I will not be playing for the top spot tomorrow, who does that leave? Still plenty of interesting options … this race is loaded with them. I cannot dismiss horses like Jake Mo, Unbridled’s Note, Cyber Secret, and Atigun, but in the end the horse I have landed on is Adirondack King.
Trained by John Servis and ridden by Stewart Elliot, both of Smarty Jones fame, Adirondack King has been nothing but solid since adding Lasix last September. Following three sharp wins at Parx Racing to close out 2011, the son of Lawyer Ron has run a couple of sneaky good races this year. A strong finish when third to recent Tampa Bay Derby winner, Prospectve started the year off, and then I was impressed with his effort in the Secret Circle division of the Southwest. While the top two ran 1-2 around the track, it was Adirondack King who was shuffled back and then pushed well wide into the short stretch of Oaklawn’s one-mile configuration. He still was clearly the best of the late runners, and now with a two-turn race, and a race over the course under his belt, he should be ready for a big effort. Unfortunately, the 13-post does him no favors, but if Elliot can steer him inward, somewhere in the middle of the pack by the first turn, I like his chances. I also look for him to be quite a bit higher than his 6-1 morning line. He’s my play, good luck to all!