Head to Head: Handicapping Rebel on road to Kentucky Derby

Head to Head: Handicapping Rebel on road to Kentucky Derby
Photo: Ted McClenning / Eclipse Sportswire

The Grade 2, $1 million Rebel Stakes is the third of four prep races held at Oaklawn Park for the Kentucky Derby 2023.

A field of 11 3-year-old colts will race 1 1/16 miles, possibly on a wet track since there is a 50 percent chance of showers, according to the National Weather Service. The race awards a scale of 50-20-15-10-5 Derby qualifying points.

Pay attention to the Triple Crown prospects of the Rebel winner. Alumni include American Pharoah, Smarty Jones, Curlin, Afleet Alex and Lookin at Lucky, to name a few.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast wade through the past performances and pedigrees to find the top four finishers.



1. Verifying (2-1)

In his first start of the season Verifying certified his status as the early favorite for the Rebel with a dominating, 5 1/2-length victory over Gun Pilot. The only poor outing for the son of Justify was a well-beaten sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile where he was bothered at the start. Previously, Verifying placed second in the Champagne (G1) to Blazing Sevens over a sloppy track. Verifying posted two sharp, five-furlong works, and he owns one of the highest Brisnet Speed Ratings in the field. Cox and Geroux, what’s not to like? Contender.



Verifying has shown he needs to be on or very closely pressing the pace in order to be a winner. In the two races where he got his way, he earned 97 and 95 Brisnet Speed Ratings. In both the Champagne (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he was farther off the pace than he preferred, ran second and sixth and earned speed ratings of 82 and 86, respectively. Brad Cox is a high percentage trainer on all angles, and the rail is winning at a 20 percent clip. The son of Justify already owns a win over this track at a mile, and he bested Gun Pilot. Additionally, he ran second in the mud at Belmont, and Justify is throwing some good mud runners. Contender.


2. Powerful (20-1)

Powerful’s only off-the-board result was in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) where he walked out of the gate and had a wide trip. In his last start, he returned to capture the 6 1/2-furlong Ed Brown Stakes, beating Frosted Departure by 1 3/4 lengths. Steve Asmussen put two five-furlong, 1:01 works into Powerful for the Rebel Stakes. Nyquist is an excellent mud sire, and one of Powerful’s two half-siblings won over the surface. The first of a trio of Asmussen runners, Powerful’s speed ratings are lower than his stablemates. Three-year-olds can improve a lot in their first few starts off a layoff. However, I’ll have to pass in favor of his stablemates.


The one time Powerful faced top-tier competition, he finished 11th, beaten by 30 lengths in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). In lesser company, he’s 3: 2-1-0 with his last race being a win going 6 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs at the end of November. He beat Frosted Departure in that race and earned a career-best 89 speed rating, but Red Route One was part of the contingent that thumped him in the Breeders’ Futurity. Pass.

3. Red Route One (10-1)

Red Route One closed like an offshore powerboat in the Southwest Stakes (G3) but couldn’t get to Arabian Knight. Still, Gun Runner’s son finished two lengths in front of a tired Frosted Departure. This Asmussen trainee makes racing exciting. He storms down the lane but won only once. Ricardo Santana Jr. sticks with Gun Pilot while the meet’s leading rider Cristian Torres grabs the reins. Exotics. 


This son of Gun Runner splashed to a second-place finish in the Southwest (G3) last out, checking in behind Arabian Knight, who is not running back in this spot. He received a career-best 90 speed rating for that effort. Back in October he could manage only fifth in the Street Sense (G3) in the slop. Regardless, the colt always shows up despite not having notched a dirt victory yet. Ricardo Santana Jr., who was aboard for three of his previous starts, is sticking with stablemate Gun Pilot, however. Exotics.

4. Gun Pilot (8-1)

In his season debut, Gun Pilot was shot down by Verifying by two lengths. However, the Asmussen trainee was stronger second off the layoff and flew to a two-length victory over Bourbon Bash in a soft, optional-claiming event. Gun Runner is an above average mud sire, and Asmussen charges hit the board 52 percent in their third start off the layoff. Contender.





Gun Pilot is familiar with several in this field. He beat Talladega in his debut, finished second to Verifying in his second start and most recently beat Bourbon Bash in an optional claimer. Those last two races were both at Oaklawn, and he received a career-best 90 Brisnet Speed Rating for his win over Bourbon Bash. He clearly likes the track, but this will be his graded debut, and it’s not an easy field. Gun Runner, like Justify, is throwing good mud runners, although Gun Pilot hasn’t been tested on that surface yet. Exotics.


5. Giant Mischief (5-2)

Brad Cox’s 3-year olds making their season debut in Oaklawn stakes hit the board 76 percent of the time. Plus, Giant Mischief has an excellent mud pedigree. Into Mischief’s offspring hit the board 54 percent of the time on mud, and Giant Mischief’s dam Vertical Oak won or placed every time she raced on the off going. Besides, it’s the Cox-Irad Ortiz team. Who bets against that? Contender.



Giant Mischief won two straight to begin his career but dropped the ball in the Remington Springboard Mile in mid-December as the favorite, finishing second. He earned a 99 speed rating in his second career start, a seven-furlong, optional claimer at Keeneland, which is the top rating in the field. Trainer Brad Cox is winning at a 23 percent clip with runners coming in off a 46- to 90-day layoff and at a 30 percent clip with beaten favorites. Red hot Irad Ortiz Jr. replaces Florent Geroux, who opted to ride Verifying for the first time. Contender.

6. Reincarnate (7-2)

Previously conditioned by Bob Baffert, Sham Stakes (G3) winner Reincarnate will try to replicate his form for Tim Yakteen. Replicate bested Newgate by a neck in the Sham and was flattered when that one returned to win the Robert B. Lewis (G3) over three lesser stablemates. Over the last five years, 5 of 6 of Yakteen’s charges hit the board in their first start after the trainer switch. John Velazquez won the sloppy Southwest with Arabian Lion. Can he do the same in the Rebel? Contender.


Reincarnate is part of the mass exodus from the Bob Baffert barn and will run for Tim Yakteen this weekend. The Good Magic colt ran second three straight times before earning his first win in start no. 4. He followed that up with an upset as the longest shot in the field in the all-Baffert Sham (G3), earning a career-best 98 speed rating. He seems to have things figured out and to be on the upswing. However, former Baffert stablemate Harlocap ran sixth in last weekend’s Risen Star (G2) in his first start for Steve Asmussen. He’s never faced an off track, but sire Good Magic’s offspring win in the mud at a 23 percent clip.  Exotics.

7. Confidence Game (15-1)

In his first start of the season and second foray into graded company, Confidence Game pressed the pace three-wide in the Lecomte but had nothing left in the stretch. He drifted out badly, and while he placed third, the Desormeaux trainee beat only two rivals. By Candy Ride out of Zenyatta’s little sis Eblouissante, Confidence Game brushed the rust off in the Lecomte and should be stronger. Exotics. 


I really liked Confidence Game in the Lecomte (G3) and played him on top to win. While he didn’t win, he still gamely continued on for third after being outkicked in the stretch. Lecomte runner-up Two Phil’s ran back last weekend to finish third in the Risen Star (G2). I don’t think this Candy Ride colt has the speed ratings to win, but he should be well-placed to pick up a minor placing. Exotics.

8. Talladega (30-1)

Talladega graduated in his second start as a 3-year-old over a wet-fast Oaklawn surface. However if he wins, he’ll be the first male in his immediate family to earn black type. His three half-sisters, Holiday Disguise, Midnight Disguise and Forest Caraway, have acquired all the glory. Additionally, Talladega’s speed ratings are on the low side, and he’ll need to improve to beat this group despite the presence of Flavien Pratt. Pass.


It took Talladega four starts to get his picture taken, but switching to setting the pace rather than closing really improved this Into Mischief colt. He earned an 88 Brisnet Speed Rating for his effort over the sealed, wet-fast Oaklawn oval. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to be enough to win this race. Pass.

9. Event Detail (30-1)

The third try was the charm for Event Detail when he graduated by 2 3/4 lengths at Turfway. None of City of Light’s five off-track runners has won, and his son hails from a turf-oriented family, so he may wind up on the lawn eventually. Also, over the last five years, Paulo Lobo’s last out maiden winners return to win 14 percent of the time. Pass.


Event Detail was sixth on debut at Churchill Downs and improved when dropping in class and switching to Turfway Park’s Tapeta surface, ticking off a second-place finish and then a win. Trainer Paulo Lobo is winning at a 24 percent clip with shippers and a 20 percent clip with last race maiden winners. This will be a harsh class test. Pass.

10. Bourbon Bash (20-1)

Bourbon Bash has hit the board in 5 of 8 tries with one victory. He’s seen the tail end of Gun Pilot, Powerful, Red Route One and Frosted Departure twice. Maybe he can hit the lower exotics at a big price, but his speed ratings aren’t as good as the top runners. Pass.



Bourbon Bash previously tried graded company twice, losing the Hopeful (G1) and the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) by a combined 54 lengths. In his last three starts he finished behind Gun Pilot, Frosted Departure and Powerful, the latter two being long shots like himself. He hit the board in both starts at Oaklawn, but that was against lesser company. Pass.

11. Frosted Departure (20-1)

In his 10-race career, Frosted Departure has finished behind Confidence Game, Powerful and twice in back of Red Route One. To his credit the McPeek trainee beat poor Bourbon Bash by two lengths. Not a ringing endorsement. Pass.



Frosted Departure outran his odds in the Southwest (G3) to finish 3rd at 46-1 in the slop. That makes him 3: 0-0-1 on off tracks. The son of Frosted likes to run close to the pace, but he will have his work cut out for him in crossing over from the far outside in a field full of speedy types. Lightning hit close to home last out, but that storm has passed. No, thank you.


Final thoughts

Laurie:  The Rebel Stakes usually is won by a pacesetter or presser who hit the board in his previous start, gaining ground or widened his lead in his last race. Only one captured the Rebel in his 3-year-old debut.

Four contestants fit the winning profile, but only three have the speed ratings to win.

Verifying and Gun Pilot have the advantage of recent starts at Oaklawn. Gun Pilot’s speed ratings improved in his last start, so logically he should continue to improve. Besides, 8-1 is more enticing than 2-1.

Baffert won eight of the last 12 editions of the Risen Star. He isn’t here, but his protégé Yakteen brought his former trainee Reincarnate to the dance. Reincarnate ran a career-best 98 rating in his first off a layoff, so will he regress? New trainer, track, and surface, so maybe.

Red Route One doesn’t fit the pacesetting-pressing profile, but he closed over a wet-fast track in his last race and should be included.

Although I like Confidence Game to improve and perhaps hit the lower exotics, I can’t leave out Giant Mischief.

Ashley: There are several pacesetter-presser types in this field headed by morning line favorite Verifying. The big knock against him is his sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he has an excuse as he was bumped and bothered at the start.

Others who will want to be part of the pace included Powerful, Gun Pilot, Reincarnate, Confidence Game, Talladega, Bourbon Bash and Frosted Departure. Whew, that’s quite a list, but I’m tossing Powerful, Talladega, Bourbon Bash and Frosted Departure, so that trims the fat a bit.

I liked Red Route One’s performance against buzzsaw Arabian Knight, and he’ll have plenty of pace to run at. Giant Mischief also should get a good setup. It’s hard to ignore Confidence Game at 15-1, and Reincarnate is intriguing also.

Verifying has the best, most consistent speed ratings in the field, but I’m going to try to beat him.




4. Gun Pilot (8-1)

3. Red Route One (10-1)

1. Verifying (2-1)

5. Giant Mischief (5-2)

3. Red Route One (10-1)

6. Reincarnate (7-2)

5. Giant Mischief (5-2)

7. Confidence Game (15-1)


Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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