Head to Head: Rebel Stakes picks and predictions

By Laurie Ross
March 16, 2018 12:02pm

Saturday's Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes is the second of three Oaklawn Park preps for the 2018 Kentucky Derby and drew a deep field of 11 for the 1 1/16-mile race.   

Ashley Tamulonis, of HRN's 
Coast To Coast blog, and I parry over the field and defy the odds in this week's "Head to Heat" feature.



Title Ready — He earned his way into the field with a smart score in an allowance spot last month. His speed figure for that effort is tied for the second-highest last race figure. That event was at Oaklawn over the Rebel distance, and his works have been steady but not eye-catching. Trainer Steve Asmussen puts Jose Ortiz in the saddle, and his early run style coupled with the rail draw could all be to his advantage if he is not pressured too badly.

Title Ready hails from a very classy family, as his second dam is champion Personal Ensign. Title Ready has a good/bad race cycle, and he won his last start. Maybe he can break that? He has speed from the rail and will likely have early company. Exotics Contender.

Curlin’s Honor — Undefeated in two career starts, he last raced on Feb. 25 and could improve in this spot after shaking the rust off last time. He lays right off the pace, and should the speedy types tango early, he could be right there to pounce first. This will be his first attempt at two turns, but trainer Mark Casse should have the $1.5 million purchase ready to go.


Curlin's Honor — He showed tactical speed in both starts and he won both them by a stubborn neck. He showed professionalism and his sire’s determination in his second start. Racing over a sloppy track, Curlin’s Honor settled behind the pace between horses for much of the race. He was stuck behind a wall of horses in the stretch, found a seam and took off under a hand ride, galloping out much the best. Three half siblings are blacktype earning milers, and the son of Curlin should love the extra distance. He's live.

Solomini — If he runs back to his juvenile form, Solomini is strictly the one to beat. After losing to the crop’s best three in his last three outings, the Rebel is a class relief spot for the son of Curlin. His last four works have been bullet moves, and his speed figures are the best in the field. Win contender.


Solomini — He's the temperamental class of the field. As Ashley remarked, he has plenty of talent, but I’m not sold on him. Solomini is still a big kid and hasn’t grown up mentally. In his second-to-last breeze, while running on the wrong lead, he refused to go by recent maiden winner Restoring Hope, despite urging. Solomini’s pre-race bullet breeze was completed under urging and pressure. He could win on class alone with a good ride, but some in this field are rapidly improving. He’ll be a short price, and although Bob Baffert has won six of the last eight Rebels, I’m looking elsewhere for the winner, probably to my detriment. Exotics.

Magnum Moon — Well, color me surprised. Another undefeated Todd Pletcher colt. As with any Pletcher runner, you certainly cannot count this one out, and his best speed figure puts him on par with Solomini. Could be a good price and a logical contender.


Magnum Moon — As my partner in crime noted with a touch of snark, Todd Pletcher sends out another late bloomer. And Ashley, don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. The son of Malibu Moon is undefeated in both starts, but I’m not baying at this moon just yet. Magnum Moon’s second-to-last work wasn’t inspiring. Breezing in company with the older graded stakes placed mare Ivy Bell, Magnum Moon was a little intimidated on the rail. He was urged slightly to stay with the mare and to pass her. He stuck a neck in front, briefly and reluctantly, but she was on cruise control and asserted herself immediately. Magnum Moon is a nice colt from the family of multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Harmony Lodge and Arkansas Derby hero Graeme Hall, but he hasn’t beaten anything, and his races are more workmanlike than dazzling. He’ll be another short-priced contender. Exotics.   

Higher Power — He so far has relished two turns. The family is classy, with Higher Power being a half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Alternation, who won going as far as 1 3/16 miles. His figures have improved with each start, but this will be a class test off a two-month hiatus. I’m not convinced he can win, but he could pick up a minor placing.


Higher Power — He has been brought along nicely by Donnie Von Hemel. The son of Medaglia d'Oro is out of long-winded stakes-winning daughter of Seattle Slew. Higher Power showed tenacity in his last start, going a mile over the Oaklawn dirt. The colt with the distinctive white nose was in tight most of the way behind horses, swung wide and kicked into gear. He got his last furlong in 12.72, faster than the previous split of 13.25. When was the last time you saw that? On the negative side, he hasn’t beaten anyone, and his overall speed figures are low, but his late pace figures fit. Why is this guy 20-1 morning line? Very live longshot.

Pryor — He finally saw the winner’s circle after catching a sloppy track and the lead for the first time. One race a career does not make, but personally, I would only use this one if the track came up muddy.


Pryor  He’s an improving sort but may be part of a contentious early pace. The son of multiple graded stakes winner Awesome Humor may hit the board, but trainer Ron Moquett is 7-77 with the maiden to stakes angle. The only “Pryor” wisecrack I saw that fit here wasn’t family friendly. Pass.

Sporting Chance — He shook off the rust in the Southwest (G3) and likely could have had a better placing if Combatant had not lugged in on him in the stretch. While there was no contact, Sporting Chance did lose momentum. The colt gets another sporting chance from me. Contender.


Sporting Chance — As Ashley observed, Sporting Chance was mugged by Combatant in the stretch, and this son of Tiznow, our of Grade 1 winner Wynning Ride, was running sideways for a few strides. He may have been a little short in the fitness department, too, but good ‘ole D. Wayne Lukas gave the colt a sharp pre-race breeze. Never count The Coach out. He won this race in 2013 with Will Take Charge, who returned a cool $58.00. Contender.

High North — The Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) has turned into quite the key race, which makes me wonder, “Will High North be the next stakes winner from that race?” Five runners from that event, including the winner, have come back to win Derby preps since then. High North last finished fifth in the Risen Star (G2), which was his 2018 bow, but Kentucky Jockey Club winner Enticed dropped the Holy Bull (G2) before winning the Gotham (G3). He did post his best career speed figure last out. But otherwise, his numbers don’t quite fit. That key race angle is hard to ignore. Maybe.


High North — He hasn’t finished in the same zip code as Good Magic, Avery Island, Etched or Bravazo in previous starts. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the Kentucky Jockey Club, but the Brad Cox trainee was one-paced in the Risen Star. Works are steady but average. The one plus is having Gary Stevens in the irons, but High North needs to show more before I’m convinced he’s legit. Pass.

Zing Zang — He made a sustained move in the Southwest (G3) but could not follow through to the wire. I expect to see much of the same in the Rebel. Pass.


Zing Zang — Zinged when he should have zinged in the LeComte and Southwest. His only finish in the money was his victory over maidens three starts back. Pass.

Combatant — He appears to have quite the case of “seconditis.” His last three races, all stakes, have resulted in runner-up finishes. However, I would not be surprised to see this one finally break through for the successful team of Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton, Ricardo Santana Jr., and Steve Asmussen. His numbers are consistent, and there are enough speedy types in the field that he may get an ideal setup. Exotics for sure.


Combatant — He brings to mind the exploits of Closing Argument, Golden Soul and Keen Ice. They were one-run closers, occasionally won, but more often were money burners who filled out the bottom half of the exotics. Unless things fall apart late, this son of Scat Daddy will be running but have to settle for another minor placing. Exotics.

Bode’s Maker — He comes in on a two-week turnaround after giving a career-best effort on March 3. Prior to that, however, his previous four races were abysmal. Filling this field was not a problem, so trainer Allen Milligan must think he belongs…or is willing to swing for the fence. Nothing here interests me. Pass.


Bode's Maker — He has a stamina-over-speed pedigree and hails from the wonderfully speedy Florida-bred family of Cherokee Frolic (Super Frolic, Lindsay Frolic, etc.). A sprint to a one-turn mile is probably Bode’s Maker’s sweet spot. Pass.

Track bias

Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a transformation of the Rebel Stakes into a display of California speed. Bob Baffert has won six of the last eight runnings of the Rebel Stakes. He saddled the favorite in the two editions of the Rebel that he didn’t win. Neither hit the board, but the “other” Baffert horse placed third in 2013. Last year, Todd Pletcher captured the race. Pace setter/pressers were most successful in the last nine editions of the Rebel.

Final Thoughts

I’m going to take my hint from the title of the race, Rebel Rebel (yes, Bowie is singing in the background). I’m not putting a horse trained by Baffert or Pletcher in the win position. Once y’all have recovered from that announcement, I’ll explain why. Everyone with me? I believe in a Higher Power, and it just so happens that there’s one running in the race. Speed figures are good, plus he should get a pace-pressing/stalking trip. A number of colts could factor in the finish. Combatant and Magnum Moon are two I won’t leave off my tickets. Title Ready could be in there too with the right trip.

Solomini will be your deserving heavy favorite, but there won’t be any value. There is plenty of other talent in the field, and I really like the look of two exiting the Southwest.




#7 Sporting Chance (5-1)

#5 Higher Power (20-1)

#3 Solomini (3-2)

#7 Sporting Chance (5-1)

#10 Combatant (8-1)

#3 Solomini (3-2)

#8 High North (12-1)

#2 Curlin's Honor (12-1)


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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.

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