Saturday Stakes Preview, on the KY Derby Trail: In the Rebel at Oaklawn, a wide-open race led by a Baffert colt on the improve

DontLetTheGamePassYouByfortfus

>>Go to the PPs for The Rebel, Post Time 6:06 CDT Saturday

With previous winners such as Sunny’s Halo, Victory Gallop, Smarty Jones, Curlin, Lookin at Lucky, and American Pharoah, Oaklawn’s Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel has often proven to be a notable race on the Triple Crown trail. This year we have 14 horses (and 12 betting interests) going the mile and 1/16. The field contains a Grade 1 sprint winner, in Doug O’Neill’s returning Ralis, and a Grade 3 route winner over the surface, in Suddenbreakingnews.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the pace will be a fast one, and #8 American Dubai will be on a clear lead at the opening half-mile. He is followed by Gray Sky, Siding Spring, and Cupid.

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Two horses have TimeformUS Late Pace ratings that leave them well clear of the others: Suddenbreakingnews, with a 105 and Creator, with a 102.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

Creator (#1 entry) (6-1): Made a powerful late run to scuttle a MSW field at Oaklawn three weeks ago. After settling in 11th place early, he closed in on the backstretch and continued four-wide around the turn and five-wide entering the stretch. It is not often that a horse wins by over seven lengths after coming from so far behind. His speed figure of 103 matches his two-year-old top and is semi-competitive in here. Coupled with Madcap, Creator is a contender if he goes forward even a little, but he faces vastly tougher horses today, and he’ll need to find running room in a big field.

Ralis (12-1): Won the 7F Hopeful at Saratoga as a two-year-old, then promptly went off form. He has one double-digit speed figure from six tries. His two tries in routes (one in the slop) were disappointing. Trainer Doug O’Neill gets a rating of only 62 off layoffs of similar lengths.

Cupid (7-2):

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Originally he was headed to the Sunland Derby. Then that came apart and he was entered in the San Felipe, only to scratch in order to run here. He broke awkwardly and half a step slowly in his 8.5F maiden win at Santa Anita. He was very wide around the first turn (five-wide entering and three-wide exiting) and seemed a bit green. He didn’t seem to corner as well as he should have. Still, he took charge out of the second turn (where he was unnecessarily wide) and won like a horse who is sitting on further improvement in the near future. And his speed figure of 101 does not leave him far off of these even if one chooses not to adjust for his difficult trip. Baffert gets a 100 rating at Oaklawn, but the betting public is well aware of his prowess here. This well-bred colt is the most lightly raced horse in the field and could be any sort. He is a strong contender.

Discreetness (12-1):

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He worked his way up to a 105 when winning the Smarty Jones over this surface. Then he drew a bad post in the Southwest and paid for it around the first turn. By our count he was seven-wide entering the first turn and about five-wide midway around the first turn. After that, he did reasonably well to find a mild middle move before he went three-wide around the far turn and packed it in. One is tempted to draw a line through that effort and focus on the solid pattern of speed figures he had going into that debacle. This colt has a solid trainer and a pleasing style and is worth a longshot look if the ML holds.

Siding Spring (20-1): We have a hard time getting past the way he was gobbled up in the Southwest. Plus he figures to have trouble making the lead today. However, he has shown some versatility and remains lightly raced. But we’re watching today.

Spikes Shirl (30-1): Too slow, and headed in the wrong direction, to boot.

Madtap (#1a entry) (6-1): He has improved his speed figure in every start, for Steve Asmussen, and ranks as the horse with the fastest last-out speed figure in the field. No match for Spikes Shirl or Gray Sky in his races of three and two back, he jumped to a 109 in taking an optional claimer over this surface. The Race Rating for that race, a 104, is a mere three points shy of the preliminary Race Rating for the Rebel. However, Madtap seems quite likely to be coming from off the pace today, and that could prove a difficult task against tougher horses in a field this size.

American Dubai (12-1): We feel that he benefited from a soft trip in the Southwest while several of his opponents suffered punitive trips. Still, he was badly outrun in the final part. This was after he blew a seemingly safe lead to Cutacorner in an optional claimer. We want to see more from American Dubai before taking him at middling odds.

Z Royal (#2 entry) (20-1): Part of the Lukas entry today, with Gray Sky, he was soundly beaten, despite a friendly trip, in the LeComte, and then he lost to Suddenbreakingnews by 15 lengths in the Southwest. Yes, he was checked very hard around the first turn, but we are looking elsewhere.

Gray Sky (#2x entry) (20-1): It took him five starts to break his maiden, and he has come up short in two subsequent tries, both against softer than he sees today. We are looking elsewhere.

Cutacorner (30-1): Had a touch of trouble in the Southwest, but we don’t see that verdict being reversed no matter what kind of trip he gets today.

Whitmore (7-2):

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His only unimpressive effort was against Exaggerator in the Delta Downs Jackpot in the mud, and even that got him a figure in line with his debut. Erase that effort and his three numbers read: 89 95 107. He has shown himself to be an adept stalker in sprints, and in the Southwest a month ago, he showed that he is quite capable of making a strong run from the back of the pack despite getting an awful trip. And his trip in the Southwest was indeed awful. He broke poorly. He was checked on the backstretch. He uncorked a delicious four-wide move on the far turn. Then he was beaten, decisively, from behind by Suddenbreakingnews. Proven at this distance and over this surface, Whitmore has every right to improve further today. Yes, he drew a tricky post, but with a clean break and any kind of trip, he figures right there at the wire. Strong contender.

Cherry Wine (12-1): Visually impressive in his last two but has some improving to do on our numbers.

Suddenbreakingnews (3-1): It is hard not to admire this gelding. After six starts, he is a neck, a nose, and a steward or two away from being undefeated. He has improved his speed figure in every start. He has won two stakes, one of them graded. He has won on the lead and won from left field. He has won sprinting and routing and on the grass (ignoring the DQ) and on an off track. He made a visually impressive wide rally to take the Southwest. He has the best Late Pace rating in the field. He figures to be dropping back to last again today in order to save ground from this post, but the Pace Projector is projecting a fast pace. This is a tough customer.

The Play:

Cupid is our selection, but we are prepared to switch to Whitmore if the crowd shows too much fondness for our top choice. We will use both in multi-race wagers. Discreetness is our favorite longshot. We will use Suddenbreakingnews defensively.

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