In a very unique twist to the Kentucky Derby prep race season, this Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas has been split into two divisions. Track issues at Santa Anita Park forced the cancellation of the San Felipe Stakes last Saturday, so most of those entries decided to shift gears and enter this Saturday night’s featured event on Oaklawn’s race card.
Even more interesting is famed Kentucky Derby trainer Bob Baffert deciding to run both of his top three-year old contenders on Saturday after that much-anticipated head-to-head matchup at Santa Anita failed to materialize. Unfortunately, they will not be facing each other in the duel Rebel Stakes run. Rather, they will be headlining each separate race.
2019 Rebel Stakes - Oaklawn Park
The field for the 2019 Rebel Stakes has been split into two divisions covering the 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Oaklawn in two separate races. The total prize money for each event has been boosted to $750,000 along with an equal share of Kentucky Derby qualifying points for the top four finishers. The Rebel is open to three-year old thoroughbreds competing on the 2019 Kentucky Derby Trail.
As mentioned, Baffert’s Game Winner will highlight the division for his race as a 6/5 favorite on the early morning line while Improbable gets the nod as the top colt in the other division as a matching 6/5 favorite. I am going chalk with both of these Kentucky-bred colts as the class of each field in their three-year old debut.
Game Winner won two-year old Horse of the Year honors after winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs as part of an undefeated juvenile career. Improbable was also undefeated as a two-year old highlighted by a victory in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity to close out his juvenile campaign.
A son of Candy Ride, Game Winner will break for the No. 5 post on Saturday with veteran jockey Joel Rosario getting the ride. He comes into this race with the highest Horse Racing Nation rating of either field at 8.36. Improbable is a sire of City Zip and he will break from the far outside in this nine-horse field. His HRN rating currently stands at 8.31. Baffert is going with Drayden Van Dyke as his jockey for the Rebel.
When it comes to filling out a winning trifecta pick in Game Winner’s division, I am going with Gunmetal Grey in the place position as a 4/1 second-favorite in this 10-horse field. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, he will break from the No. 8 post with jockey Flavien Prat getting the ride. His three-year old career is highlighted by a victory in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes ahead of placing second on a sloppy track in the Grade 3 Robert E. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 3. He finished second to Game Winner twice as a juvenile in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes and the BC Juvenile.
You can round out the trifecta play with trainer Mike Casse’s Our Braintrust at 8/1 odds on the morning line. This three-year Maryland-bred old colt will break from the No. 7 post along with jockey David Cohen. He is coming off a third-place finish in this year’s Grade 3 Withers Stakes.
Going back to Improbable’s division, my choice for second in this race would be Hollendorfer’s other top contender Galilean at solid 2/1 odds on the morning line. With Prat also getting the ride in this race, the California-bred colt is already being compared to California Chrome as a sire of Uncle Mo. Coming of a recent victory in the ungraded California Cup Derby at Santa Anita, he will break next to Improbable on Saturday from the No. 8 post.
My third choice in this race would be the local product Long Range Toddy at 4/1 odds on the morning line. He is trained by Steve Asmussen and jockey J Court will break him out of the No. 2 post. The son of Take Charge Indy took third at Oaklawn in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18 after placing second in the ungraded Smarty Jones Stakes at this track in his three-year old debut.