Kentucky Derby 2019 Daily: Baffert ‘primed’ for Rebel Stakes sweep

March 16, 2019 06:41pm

Welcome to Horse Racing Nation’s Kentucky Derby Daily, which will each day leading up to the May 4 race at Churchill Downs detail all the news and notes related to contenders in one convenient space.

Oaklawn Park racing analyst Nancy Holthus is prepared to feel some deja vu on Saturday when the Rebel Stakes (G2) runs as two divisions on the 2019 Kentucky Derby trail.

The last time a Derby prep split — also at Oaklawn, though in that instance with the 2012 Southwest Stakes — trainer Bob Baffert won both flights with Secret Circle and Castaway.

This go around, the Hall of Fame conditioner has arguably a better shot for the sweep, as his team will saddle a 3-5 favorite in Improbable for Race 8 (Division 1) before 4-5 morning line shot Game Winner runs in Race 10 (Division 2).

Holthus became a believer when she met the two colts unloading from their flight into Arkansas.

“They looked like they didn’t turn a hair, as a lot of horses don’t, when they got off the plane and on the van,” she said. “I really do think Bob is primed to win both divisions of the Rebel.”

Whereas Improbable has garnered buzz given his string of workouts heading into this 3-year-old debut, the champion Game Winner would get Holthus’ nod should they have faced off this weekend. Originally, the matchup was intended before Santa Anita Park put a temporary halt to racing, cancelling last Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes in the process.

“Game Winner is, I personally think, the better of the two,” Holthus said.


She added that having seen the son of Candy Ride on track, she’s “totally in awe” that owners Gary and Mary West nabbed Game Winner for $110,000 as a yearling.

On Saturday, breaking from post No. 5, his top competition will come from Omaha Beach (7-2) and Our Braintrust (6-1).

“He’s 2-for-2 at the distance and also has shipping under his belt,” Holthus said. “He’s right smack dab in the middle of the field with that post position. He’s coming off the freshening but has worked amazing coming into this event. If there’s anybody who knows how to get a horse ready, it’s Bob Baffert.”

Improbable is in another race that’s “his to lose,” said Holthus, who can be seen both on Oaklawn’s simulcast and as a contributor to
FOX Sports At The Races airing from 5-7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS2.

His main rivals, according to the morning line, are Galilean (3-1) and Extra Hope (6-1).



“It’s interesting that in his three races, he’s drawn an inner post,” Holthus said. “He’s now on the outside of the field, and he’s going to be racing off a layoff for the first time in his career and also shipping.

“I do think with that mile and a sixteenth and where the starting gate is here at Oaklawn, he’ll probably sit and rate because that speed is directly to his inside with Galilean and Classy John.”

This conversation with Holthus happened Thursday, so she was still handicapping. But her top selections at the time were…

Rebel Stakes Division 1: Improbable, Extra Hope and Long Range Toddy.

Rebel Stakes Division 2: Game Winner, Omaha Beach and Our Braintrust.

Derby links

 Looking for more Rebel Stakes picks? Horse Racing Nation contributors pitched in to handicap both fields.

 Pedigree analyst Laurie Ross asks whether they'll get the distance in her latest Kentucky Derby pedigrees column on recent prep winners.

 Looking ahead to March 23, the first 100-point prep draws Saturday, with Louisiana Derby probables now available.

 Hidden Scroll learned some lessons in his first workout back toward the Florida Derby, and you can watch it here.

In case you missed it...

Thursday's Derby Daily report focused on the familiar connections of Reddam, O'Neill and Gutierrez teaming up on the Derby trail again.


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Horse Racing Nation's Kentucky Derby daily blog counts down to the May 4, 2019, race at Churchill Downs with a once-a-day update on all things Derby. Get the latest news and chatter, workout reports and a look at fields for upcoming preps all in once place.

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