Across the Board: Rebel Stakes can make a big impact — again

Saturday's Rebel Stakes (G2) figures to follow a number of other influential runnings at Oaklawn Park, where the 1 1/16-mile race has run for nearly 60 years, seeming only to grow in importance since the 1992 winner Pine Bluff went on to take the Preakness Stakes.

In more recent seasons, other top 3-year-olds who have performed well in the Rebel also have fared well in numerous Triple Crown races. The list begins with American Pharoah, who as with Saturday's split division favorites Game Winner and Improbable, kicked off his sophomore season in this spot, only to go on and sweep the Triple Crown.

This year and likely some years beyond 2019’s Rebel, we seem likely to see other legit Rebel stakes performers emerge from go on to be prominent contenders in the Arkansas Derby and the Triple Crown races that follow.

One reason for that increase in prominence is, of course, the significantly higher purse. The Rebel was set to be the only $1 million Derby prep offering 50 qualifying points to its winner. When Santa Anita Park halted races and canceled its San Felipe Stakes (G2), Oaklawn Park created separate $750,000 flights, increasing total purse money 50 percent.

The right type of runners have showed up for the money.

For some terrific examples, in addition to the West Coast shippers, this year’s running of the Rebel has attracted six horses trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. In the first division are Long Range Toddy and Ninth Street. Asmussen has for more in the second flight in Laughing Fox, Jersey Agenda, Kaziranga and Captain Von Trapp.

In that second division, each contender definitely brings playable credentials to this contest.

Specifically, Laughing Fox has won his last two starts over this track and at the distance; Jersey Agenda sports two wins and a second from four career starts; and Captain Von Trapp seems to have turned a corner with back-to-back Oaklawn wins as well. Kaziranga also is interesting as Asmussen tries to get this colt to recover the form he showed last fall. 

As I see the Rebel(s), the considerable depth of contenders is sure to make these races two of the top preps in the entire 2019 season -- and they might even turn out to be more significant than the Arkansas Derby (G1) that will be run at Oaklawn in April. It all depends upon how things shake out Saturday, and whether the big horses going in look ready to go on to be realistic threats in the spring classics.

In addition to the effort of Improbable in the first flight, I’m wondering aloud here if one of the underrated longshots in the second division of the Rebel will gain credibility against Game Winner, who seems to have drawn into the tougher of the two divisions.


Also remember, if either of the favorites do lose, that troubled performances in Derby prep races hardly are disqualifying. That said, I plan to pay close attention to the way the Rebel is run. 
If it is weak, I’ll have to look elsewhere for my main Derby contenders. If it is strong, I may accent the horses who ran terrific when I sit down with my plays for runners returning in the Arkansas Derby and beyond.

In addition to the way the Rebel is run, it is worth mentioning a historical reminder of this time 40 years ago when the female jockey Barbara Jo Rubin made her career debut at Aqueduct in mid-March and actually won two races on that auspicious afternoon. I'll have more on this subject down the road. But make no mistake, the game has never been the same.

Steve Davidowitz has written many books on handicapping, including the classic, "Betting Thoroughbreds." His Across the Board columns appear regularly at Horse Racing Nation. Click here to read past editions.

 

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