Hall of Famer Lukas says Baffert's Nadal 'checks all the boxes'

Hall of Famer Lukas says Baffert's Nadal 'checks all the boxes'
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

With Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas initially in tow, Nadal galloped approximately 1 1/8 miles Thursday morning in his first appearance over the Oaklawn Park surface ahead of Saturday’s Grad 2, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2).

Nadal, who is named after tennis great Rafael Nadal, was taken to the track by Lukas, a longtime friend of the unbeaten colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert. Nadal and another Rebel entrant, American Theorem, are stabled in Lukas’ barn after being flown to Arkansas from their Southern California base. Lukas also escorted American Theorem to the track to train Thursday morning for trainer George Papaprodromou.

“Wayne was tickled to death,” Baffert’s traveling assistant, Jimmy Barnes, said after Nadal galloped. “He really enjoys it when we come into town. It gives him a chance to visit and he helped out. He and Bob are such good friends. His hospitality here is great. Just makes it a lot easier to have a barn to ship into to.”

Nadal was installed the 5-2 program favorite for the Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile race that will mark the two-turn debut for the unbeaten son of champion Blame. A $700,000 2-year-old purchase, Nadal broke his maiden by 3 ¾ lengths Jan. 19 and won the $San Vicente Stakes (G2) by three-quarters of a length Feb. 9. Both races, 6 ½ furlongs and 7 furlongs, respectively, were at Santa Anita.

“Nadal, he looks beautiful right now,” Barnes said. “He’s coming into this race so well. He’s had two starts now – first time stretching out – and it looks to me like he will stretch out. He went over the track beautiful this morning. One more day of training and we’ll find out.”

Nadal went to the track Thursday morning after the first surface renovation break under Yoni Hernandez, an exercise rider for Lukas. Perhaps Nadal’s biggest fan – outside his inner circle – is Lukas, a two-time Rebel winner who had considered starting a horse in Saturday's race. 

“Boy, that’s a big, impressive-looking horse,” Lukas said after escorting Nadal back to the barn. “I can buy those kind all day long. He’s really an impressive horse. He checks all the boxes, as they say. I was contemplating maybe running one in the Rebel. Training him this morning, I’m glad I didn’t do it. Glad I’m staying in the barn. No need to be rubbing elbows with that one.”

The Rebel will offer 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby and is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11.

Baffert has won the Rebel a record six times – 2010 (Lookin At Lucky), 2011 (The Factor), 2012 (Secret Circle), 2014 (Hoppertunity), 2015 (American Pharoah) and 2016 (Cupid). American Pharoah, who went on to sweep the Triple Crown, is the sire of American Theorem.

Nadal will remove blinkers after wearing the equipment in his first two starts.  

Post time for the Rebel, the 10th of 11 races, is 6:23 p.m. ET. Saturday’s program also features the $350,000 Essex Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles and the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

2020 Rebel Stakes (G2)

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