Calling Nadal a hyped 3-year-old is an understatement. Off his career debut, the son of Blame shot to the top of many 2020 Kentucky Derby lists. He also vied for favoritism in Future Wager Pool 2, almost tying with Tiz the Law the individual top choice. After winning the San Vicente Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita by a short margin, the excitement continued.
Now, Nadal enters the Grade 2, $1 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday as the one to beat. Although he is listed as 5/2 on the morning line, those odds do not reflect that some handicappers consider him a “super horse.” With two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert behind Nadal, bettors are not likely to let him go at odds that high.
The question is whether Nadal deserves the extra amount of attention, or if enough holes exist in his record to look elsewhere.
To start off, Nadal does own obvious talent. After a moderate break in his career debut at Santa Anita, he went straight to the lead and took minor pressure from a 36-1 longshot. Nadal then put that horse away on the turn and drew clear for a 3 ¾-length victory under a hand-ride.
For his debut win, Nadal earned a 112 speed figure from TimeformUS.
Baffert chose to increase the distance only slightly in Nadal's second start, entering him in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (G2).
Nadal contested the pace against a tougher opponent that time in Ginobili. Ginobili was the fourth-place finisher in the chaotic Del Mar Futurity (G1) last September, and he also broke his maiden against Honor A. P. last August.
But Ginobili had not run since October. Despite the layoff, Nadal failed to put him away on the turn.
The two of them locked heads approaching the far turn, and Ginobili never gave up. In fact, Ginobili looked like a winner at the top of the stretch. After receiving some urging though, Nadal fought his way back to the lead.
Nadal won by ¾ of a length with a 118 TimeformUS number.
Is Nadal really invincible if he could only beat a come-backing Ginobili by ¾ of a length? Granted, no one knows for sure how Ginobili will pan out as his campaign continues around one turn.
The fourth-place Storm the Court only finished 2 ¼ lengths behind Nadal. He failed to pass the Cal-bred Fast Enough for third, and that one previously only won the California Cup Derby by a head over the slow Sacred Rider.
Storm the Court returned in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) and finished a non-threatening third, 5 ¾ lengths behind Authentic.
Also, four other horses out of Nadal's maiden score raced again, and all four of them lost including the runner-up Exaulted and third-place Lane Way.
As a final strike, an old handicapping rule is to play against heavy favorites trying something new. In this case, Nadal makes his two-turn debut as he takes blinkers off.
The logical alternative Three Technique, who makes his first start since finishing a compromised second in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in January. Gold Street slipped away with an uncontested lead and crawling fractions of 24.08, 48.96 and 1:13.72 on a wet track.
Three Technique tracked the leader in fourth, two lengths off the pace. He did move into second, passing Lynn's Map and Shoplifted on the turn.
But the pace was too slow. Because Gold Street reserved energy without major pressure, he retained his advantage and won over Three Technique by 2 ¾ lengths.
Once Gold Street became exposed to a different scenario in the Southwest Stakes (G3) by getting shut off early and racing in mid-pack through a faster pace, he folded. Instead, Silver Prospector took the Southwest, and he previously ran a troubled fourth in the Smarty Jones behind the slow pace.
In the Smarty Jones, Three Technique earned a 103 figure from TimeformUS. Silver Prospector only had a 98 before winning the Southwest with a 119.
With his 2020 debut in tow, Three Technique could build off the 103 and make the same move forward. Remember, he had displayed promise as a 2-year-old by breaking his maiden by 5 ½ lengths at the Saratoga meet.
Speaking of Silver Prospector, he could repeat his effort in the Southwest Stakes with another 119 or build on it and pull off another victory.
Silver Prospector experienced a bad trip in the Smarty Jones. He did make a nice move on the far turn, but his far-back position visually buried the ground he made up. In the Southwest, he enjoyed a far more advantageous trip by saving ground in the pocket early and tipping out in the stretch.
The time to bet Silver Prospector felt like last time. But if he gets another good trip behind an expected fast pace, he can make noise in the lane.
Nadal received a pace break when Gold Street and Wells Bayou took a pass on entering this race. But he will face pressure from the need-the-lead Louisiana-bred No Parole and returning Basin. Given the longer distance and low price, it makes sense to search for other options.
On paper, it looks like Three Technique, and possibly Silver Prospector, are the best alternatives.