McLean: Rebel Stakes a tipping point in Kentucky Derby rankings

March 13, 2019 11:38pm

We had two major and one semi-interesting prep races on the 2019 Kentucky Derby trail this past weekend, but the biggest bang came without a drum roll — just a crash of a cymbal.

Yeah, I know Tacitus got a masterful ride from the masterful Jose Ortiz and won the Tampa Bay Derby, giving rise to his name and game. As a result, the Tapit colt catapulted to No. 16 for his first appearance in my rankings.

Yeah, I know Haikal came running late — looking all the world like a 1 1/4-mile colt — to win the Gotham Stakes over the imposing Instagrand, Mind Control and Much Better up in New York. As a result, he runs himself to No. 12 in the rankings.

And, yeah, yeah, yeah, Somelikeithotbrown beat absolutely no one to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park over the landfill chum of poly track. While the connections may consider the Derby, he is still parked outside of the Top 20 for me — and resides at No. 2 on the “Others” list.

But the real news came with no news at all.

This past Saturday, we were supposed to witness the return to the races of the undefeated champion Game Winner. We were supposed to see the long-awaited matchup and showdown with his roommate Improbable. We were supposed to see the return of the gritty Gunmetal Gray. We were supposed to see the best Kentucky Derby prep of the young season. We were supposed to get the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita — and all of its drama.

Instead, we got to see the green tractors underneath of the backdrop of the beautiful mountains, as Santa Anita’s racetrack was turned upside down — both literally and figuratively —  in an attempt to discover why so many horses are having catastrophic injuries while running over it.

Instead, we got to see all the West Coast trainers with a horse and an interest in the Kentucky Derby scramble for Plan B.

Instead, we will now get to see how magical and talented the guru of horse training — Bob Baffert — will be able to adjust at halftime and make game-time decisions on what to do next, and how to get his horses back on the right track toward the first Saturday in May.

On Sunday, the Santa Anita world journeyed across town to breeze their top contenders at Los Alamitos. Had to get in all of their respective works and exercises. Not the original plan, mind you. But not a bad option, either. And, the world went on without incident.

And, now we know that both Game Winner and Improbable will join up with some others from the West Coast contingency and head to Arkansas for this Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. A place that Bob Baffert has gone and conquered before. After all, he won the Rebel in 2010 with Lookin At Lucky, in 2011 with The Factor, in 2012 with Secret Circle, in 2014 with Hoppertunity, in 2015 with American Pharoah, and in 2016 with Cupid.

So, welcome second home?

Gunmetal Gray and Galilean, from the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer, are supposed to make the trip, too.

And, so too are Richard Mandella’s Omaha Beach and Extra Hope, and Kent Desormeaux’s Easy Shot.

In addition, there are the horses stabled at Oaklawn Park that have been pointed to this race all along. Trainer Steve Asmussen has Long Range Toddy, and there are others.

There are so many horses coming from this California rush that Oaklawn Park has graciously decided to split the Rebel into two divisions. Each division will carry a purse of $750,000, and each division will offer 63.75 points to the top four finishers seeking eligibility to the Derby. Both of those issues are critical at this time of year.

So the big bang theory didn’t materialize last weekend. But it is time for it to hit this Saturday

It is Rebel week. It is time for the big boys to come to town. It is time for noise.

HorseTrainerLast Race
1. Game WinnerBob Baffert1st in Breeders’Cup JuvenileTrained Well on Sunday / Ready?
2. War of WillMark Casse1st in the G2 Risen StarCasse Loved His Work This Weekend
3. ImprobableBob Baffert1st in Cash Call FuturityCritics Choice
4. RoadsterBob Baffert1st in SA AllowanceMike Smith Says “He’s Back!”
5. Bourbon WarMark Hennig2nd in G2 Fountain of YouthNow, People Take Notice
6. Mucho GustoBob Baffert1st in G3 Robert B. LewisDon’t Count This One Out
7. Gunmetal GrayJerry Hollendorfer2nd in Robert B. Lewis StakesGutty Guy Will Do Better Than Expected
8. Country HouseBill Mott2nd in the G2 Risen StarTo Try War of Will Again
9. Code of HonorShug McGaughey1st in G2 Fountain of YouthPerfect Trip Renders Perfect Finish
10. Hidden ScrollBill Mott4th in G2 Fountain of YouthSpeed Figs Love Him / I’m Skeptical
11. GalileanJerry Hollendorfer1st in California CupNow, We Shall See
12. HaikalKiaran McLaughlin1st in G3 Gotham StakesGotham Set Up Perfectly
13. Long Range ToddySteve Asmussen3rd in G3 Southwest StakesCould Get Swamped Out of Boat
14. Sparky VilleJeff Bonde1st in G2 San Vicente StakesWhere Does He Go / Louisiana?
15. InstagrandJerry Hollendorfer3rd in G3 Gotham StakesFirst Race Since August & First Route Race
16. TacitusBill Mott1st in G2 Tampa Bay DerbyHuge Move, but Expertly Ridden
17. Harvey WallbangerKen McPeek1st in G2 Holy Bull StakesHas Moved Ahead of Stablemate For Now
18. SignalmanKen McPeek7th in G2 Fountain of YouthLooked Very Dull in 2019 Debut
19. Standard DeviationChad Brown2nd in GP AllowanceHas To Take Giant Step Forward in Next Out
20. RoilandTom Amoss3rd in the G2 Risen StarCould Be a Shocker in LA Derby
AnothertwistafateBlaine D. Wright1st in El Camino Real DerbyWorked Great This Weekend
SomelikeithotbrownMike Maker1st in G3 Jeff Ruby SteaksTurf to Poly — Check / Can He Convert to Dirt?
Our BraintrustMark Casse3rd in G3 Withers StakesWorked at Casse TC on 2-23
TaxDanny Gargan1st in G3 Withers StakesGuts
DessmanBob Baffert2nd in G2 San Vicente StakesAnother Baffert Audible
VekomaGeorge Weaver3rd in G2 Fountain of YouthPassed Late / Tiring?
Mr. MoneyW. Bret Calhoun7th in G2 Risen Star StakesDull. Maybe Needed a Race?
KinglyBob Baffert2nd in El Camino Real DerbyBeaten 7 lengths. Ouch
AquadiniDallas Stewart2nd in FG AllowanceWell Bred / Developing Late / Enough Time?


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The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.

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