The Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday may have drawn just a single graded stakes winner – Royal Mo, the winner of the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis – but this field is certainly not lacking in depth and quality.
Among the local participants are the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers from the Southwest Stakes, as well as the winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes. Southern California is well represented by Royal Mo and Sham Stakes runner-up American Anthem, the favorite for this race. Todd Pletcher, who sent out One Liner to win the Southwest off a couple of sprint victories, ships in Malagacy, who has dazzled onlookers in his first two starts in Florida.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace set by either Uncontested (#2) or American Anthem (#7). Both were aggressively ridden in their most recent starts and figure to use their natural speed once again. However, there are a number of colts who should be in hot pursuit of those two early, including Petrov (#4), Malagacy (#6), and Royal Mo (#10).
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, SILVER BULLION (30-1): He has yet to earn a triple-digit TimeformUS Speed Figure and was soundly defeated by weaker allowance company last time. He’s up against it in his stakes debut.
#2, UNCONTESTED (10-1): It’s hard to shake the feeling that this flashy colt may have distance limitations. He did handle a flat mile in the Smarty Jones, where he soundly defeated Petrov. However, he clearly loved the sloppy surface he encountered that day. He has faded in the final furlongs of his only other tries around two turns, both of which came at this distance. He did set a very fast pace in the Southwest and earned a career best TimeformUS Speed Figure of 114 for the effort. However, he should have had more of an answer when Petrov, who had a taxing trip in his own right, came calling for him at the top of the stretch. It’s difficult to envision him surviving another fast pace and holding off the late runners here.
#3, SONNETEER (30-1): This maiden has chased home some decent horses in California, but he is still in way over his head here.
#4, PETROV (9-2): I had my doubts about this runner after he failed to run down Uncontested in the Smarty Jones, his first start around two turns. Yet he proved me completely wrong in the Southwest, doing away with any notion that he had serious distance limitations. While he was no match for a relentless One Liner in deep stretch, this colt deserves credit for making the first move into a swift pace and putting away the pacesetter, Uncontested.
While there isn’t a ton of stamina breeding on the dam’s side of his pedigree, he is inbred 2×3 to A.P. Indy, so there is reason to believe he will continue on in distance. Today, he merely has to handle the same 1 1/16 miles that he negotiated last time. If he can reproduce that effort, he’s a major threat to win. On the other hand, his form is now exposed, so we may not get a great price on him.
#5, UNTRAPPED (8-1): I’ve been a fan of this horse and therefore was encouraged to see him finally run a reasonably fast race when finishing second in the Risen Star last time out. He did work out a great trip, saving ground around the turns before angling out at the three-eighths pole. His vacating the rail did allow eventual winner Girvin clear sailing in the stretch, but Untrapped was simply second-best to that foe. The only knock against him is that the 111 TimeformUS Speed Figure he earned for that effort, while respectable, is not quite up to par with what horses like Petrov and American Anthem have recorded, so he will need to improve.
In a race that features so many attractive options, he feels like a horse who could get a little overlooked. I certainly would use him prominently at anything around his 8-1 morning line, but I still can’t shake the feeling that he’s just a slight cut below the most talented horses in this field.
#6, MALAGACY (4-1): It’s tempting to draw parallels between this colt and the Southwest winner, One Liner. Like that stablemate, Malagacy is coming off two impressive wins sprinting and is making his first start around two turns in his stakes debut. While the hurdles are significant, Todd Pletcher actually has great numbers with this move. According to DRF Formulator, he is 6 for 16 (38 percent) with an ROI of $7.16 when stretching out 3-year-olds for the first time in graded stakes on dirt. Despite that strong statistic, I’m skeptical that lightning will strike twice for the Pletcher barn. Malagacy’s pedigree is strongly geared toward sprinting on the dam’s side, and he really hasn’t beaten a foe of actual quality. Furthermore, given his speedy nature and the projected pace scenario, it’s hard to see him working out the right trip. I’m against him at a short price.
#7, AMERICAN ANTHEM (2-1): There is a lot to like about this precocious Bob Baffert trainee. His sire, Bodemeister, fell just a few feet short of winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and American Anthem gets a ton of stamina pedigree from his dam, who is a half-sister to champion $2.7 million earner Banshee Breeze. After coming from just off the pace to win his debut sprinting, he was immediately stretched out in distance and thrown into graded stakes company for his second start. Considering the significant hurdles, he acquitted himself nicely. Ridden aggressively from the inside, he engaged in a race-long duel with Grade 1 winner Gormley. Despite losing the lead at the top of the stretch, he battled back gamely all the way to the finish, ultimately falling a nose short.
It is well documented that Baffert has great success with his 3-year-old starters at Oaklawn. Over the past five years, he is 9 for 22 (41 percent), with a $2.36 ROI, when running 3-year-olds in routes at the Hot Springs, Ark., racetrack, according to DRF Formulator. American Anthem is predicted to be racing on the lead by the Pace Projector, but I wonder if Mike Smith will elect to place him just off the one-dimensional front-runner Uncontested. Either way, he figures to get caught up in what is predicted to be a fast pace. While he may indeed be talented enough to overcome that taxing trip, I doubt he’s going to offer sufficient value as the favorite.
#8, SILVER DUST (15-1): It seemed like he was everyone’s wise-guy horse in the Southwest, as he got bet down to 7-1 odds in that deep field despite the fact that he was coming off a relatively slow maiden win. While some may have been disappointed by his fourth-place finish in the Southwest, I think there are some reasons to give him a pass for that race. He appeared to be a little too keen coming off the layoff, as he got quite rank heading into the backstretch run. Corey Lanerie allowed him to move up between horses, but Silver Dust found himself in an awkward position racing between horses heading into the far turn. He appeared to be reluctant to go through the hole when others were making their moves, and he got shuffled back at the top of the stretch.
Given those minor difficulties, I thought Silver Dust ran pretty well to be fourth in his stakes debut. Now he is predicted to get another fast pace to close into, and one would imagine that he will settle off the pace more kindly with that race under his belt. The 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for his last start certainly puts him in the mix, and I think another forward move could be forthcoming.
#9, APPALACHIAN GEM (30-1): He’s never run a particularly fast race and appears to be badly overmatched in his stakes debut.
#10, ROYAL MO (9-2): This impressive son of Uncle Mo has done little wrong through his first four starts. It took him a few tries to win his maiden, but he put it all together when stretched out around two turns in his third start. Stepped right up into stakes company off that win, he easily handled his rivals in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis, establishing himself as the only major stakes winner in this field. However, despite that race earning a strong speed figure, that was one of the weaker preps for this year’s Kentucky Derby, and Royal Mo is stepping up to face a much more talented group of rivals today. Furthermore, he’s been successful controlling affairs up front in his recent races, and he is likely going to be forced to stalk the pace this time. He clearly possesses some talent, but I think the hurdles are too significant this time.
#11, LOOKIN AT LEE (15-1): He finished a closing third in the Southwest, just ahead of fellow late runner Silver Dust, who also returns in this race. Yet whereas that colt had some trouble during the race, Lookin At Lee got a great trip, saving ground at the back of the pack early before making a clear run into the stretch. He had every chance late and actually had to work harder than I would have liked to secure third place in a race that was falling apart late. While he has earned minor awards in some important races, he is also one of the most experienced runners in this field, so it’s hard to make the case that he has more upside than his lightly raced rivals. A third- or fourth-place finish seems like his ceiling once again.
Petrov (#4) and American Anthem (#7) appear to be the two most likely winners, but their margins for error are slight, and I doubt either of them will offer much value. I’m instead inclined to take a positive view of improving runners like Untrapped (#5) and especially Silver Dust (#8). The latter runner feels like a horse who could get overlooked as people prematurely jump off his bandwagon coming out of the Southwest. He’s my top pick, and I would bet him to win if he’s going off at double-digit odds.
Exacta: 5,8 with 4,5,7,8,10
Trifecta: 8 with 4,5,7 with 2,4,5,7,10,11
Trifecta: 4,5,7 with 8 with 2,4,5,7,10,11