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Past the Grandstand

How Will History Affect Rebel Runners?

Hoppertunity Rebel(2) 615 X 400
Photo: Terri Cage

Oaklawn Park is often nicknamed “the Saratoga of the South.” A trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas is enough reason to understand this moniker. Throughout the town, paintings and photographs of racehorses are to be found on various signs and advertisements. Many businesses hold racing-related names, such as the Best Western Winners Circle Inn across the street from Oaklawn’s grandstand, and just by driving down Central Avenue, you can catch a glimpse of Thoroughbreds galloping around the turn and into the stretch. Hot Springs is a racing town.

Home to one of the most popular series of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prep races, Oaklawn boasts its own graded stakes-triple: the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) in February, the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) in March, and the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) in April. In recent years, this three-race sequence has produced some of the most talented horses in the nation. The Rebel Stakes alone has produced six Eclipse Award winners, including one Horse of the Year and four Champion Three-Year-Olds, in the past ten years.

Last year, Rebel winner Will Take Charge went on to be named the Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old, while Rebel runner-up Oxbow moved forward to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). The winner of the 2010 edition, Lookin at Lucky, would also go on to win the Preakness Stakes and was later named that year’s Champion Three-Year-Old. In 2007, Curlin made his stakes debut in the Rebel, winning the race by 5 ¼ lengths before finding much success in the Triple Crown, winning the Preakness, finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, and running second in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The winner of the Rebel in 2006, Lawyer Ron, only managed to finish twelfth in the Derby, but became the Eclipse Champion Older Male in 2007. In 2005, Afleet Alex was a disappointing sixth in the Rebel, but went on to win the Preakness and Belmont to become that year’s Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Male. 2004 produced one of the Rebel’s most successful horses; that year’s winner, Smarty Jones, would win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing second in the Belmont to miss becoming a Triple Crown winner.

While the Rebel is chiefly considered a Kentucky Derby prep, the race has produced only two Derby winners: Smarty Jones and Sunny's Halo. Both of these horses won the Rebel; no horse that has lost the Rebel has won the Kentucky Derby.

The race’s principal Triple Crown success lies with the Preakness. Four Preakness winners – Pine Bluff, Smarty Jones, Curlin, and
Lookin at Lucky – have also won the Rebel. Horses who ran in the Rebel but lost have also found victory in the Preakness, including Preakness winners Oxbow and Afleet Alex.

As for the final leg of the Triple Crown, two Rebel winners – Temperence Hill and Victory Gallop – have won the Belmont. Also, as aforementioned, Afleet Alex lost the Rebel but would become a Belmont winner.

Few trainers have found more success in the Rebel Stakes than Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert, who has won four of the past five runnings of the race. This year, Baffert sent Hoppertunity, a lightly raced colt who survived a rough stretch run and an inquiry to win the Rebel. Fifth in his debut in early January at Santa Anita, Hoppertunity broke his maiden by three lengths at that same track before finishing a troubled fourth in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds. He was sent off as the fourth choice in the Rebel, where he faced the likes of Southwest Stakes winner Tapiture and Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner and Southwest runner-up Strong Mandate. Bumping and squeezing ran rampant in the Rebel's late stretch between the top four – Hoppertunity, Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, and Strong Mandate – but Hoppertunity persevered through this to capture the race by a half-length.

Prior to Hoppertunity, Baffert’s last Rebel win came with Secret Circle in 2012. This colt, who won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) in 2013, never competed in the Triple Crown. Baffert also won in 2011 with The Factor, another colt that would never run in a Triple Crown race but became a grade one-winning sprinter. But Baffert’s 2010 Rebel winner, Lookin at Lucky, added to the Rebel’s list of winners that would go on to win the Preakness and be named an Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Male.

History is racing against Hoppertunity in his pursuit of the Kentucky Derby, as no horse has won the Run for the Roses without racing as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882. But the Rebel’s record of Triple Crown race winners offers hope for the colt, as well as for the horses that finished behind him in Saturday’s roughly run Rebel. Although it is not guaranteed, history indicates that a future classic winner or Eclipse Award champion emerged from Oaklawn this weekend. Now we must wait to see which colt could become that special horse.


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Older Comments about How Will History Affect Rebel Runners?...

Good info, Laz and John. To also steal from Mary Cage's article, no one has mentioned Elocutionist. I guess there might've been earlier Ark Derby connections, but he was the first one I remember.
Super Savor and Lil. E Tee also ran second in the Arkansas Derby before winning the Derby. I think outside of the Florida Derby it has been one of the strongest preps in the last 10 or so years. Curlin,Bodemeister, Afleet Alex, Nehro, Steppenwoffer, Impeachement all placed in the Derby after prepping in Arkansas.
When it comes to the Oaklawn Park three TC prep races, the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby, when considering all three races combined I believe the only Kentucky Derby winners that won one of these three races were Smarty Jones and Sunny’s Halo. Grindstone did finish second in the Arkansas Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby. Demons Begone won all three, was a huge favorite in the Derby, and floundered when he bled. The three races are useful preps for the other TC races, but to me they are just another path to take to get there. The horses that passed through Oaklawn on their way to the TC and did well in TC races would have done well anywhere.
Nice article, Mary. That is amusing that many of the posts reflected what you had already said in your article. This seems to be a very pivotal race, in the future plans of these horses, based on your info.
I included all of those Rebel runners-turned-Triple Crown race winners in the article ;) - Mary Cage
he was ill
When Afleet Alex ran in the Rebel Stakes, it would be the only time in his history, that he ran off the board.
Don't forget Afleet Alex. I believe it was his second start of the year, he finished out of the money but he bounced back to win the Arkansas Derby and we all know the rest
That one did slip my mind
Don't forget Temparence Hill won the Belmont with Eddie Maple and big balloons.
Turned out a couple of Preakness winners- Pine Bluff, Curlin, Lookin at Lucky. A Belmont winner in Victory Gallop.
Correct,Victory Gallop was the only one who was close other than the 2 that did it.
Sunny's Halo in 1983 I believe.
And before him was
Andy i believe the only modern day horse to do it was Smarty Jones
Not many Rebel winners have won the Ky Derby, but a lot of very good horses have come out of the Rebel!

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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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