By Gene Kershner
The Derby Trail turns to Arkansas this weekend for the Grade 2 $500,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. A full field of 13 colts will tackle the Hot Springs oval trying to capture treasured graded earnings and a spot in one of the cherished 20 gates in Louisville on the First Saturday in May.
The last Derby winner to also win the Rebel was Smarty Jones in 2004; however the race has had its share of champions capture this 1 1/16-mile prelim to the Arkansas Derby. Recent winners include Preakness champions Lookin at Lucky and Curlin, as well as the highly regarded Lawyer Ron, who sends out one of his progeny on Saturday to try and match his victory in 2006.
West coast trainer Bob Baffert will try to capture his third straight Rebel after wins with Lookin at Lucky and The Factor the past two years with the promising Secret Circle. Trainer Steve Asmussen looks to capture his fourth Rebel and has entered two colts, Unbridled's Note and Sabercat, winner of the Delta Jackpot.
Let's take a look at the field for this weekend's big race. (Trainer and Jockey in Parenthesis)
1 - Unbridled's Note (Asmussen, Hill) Only third career race for this Unbridled's Song colt who just didn't have it in the Grade 3 Southwest after a shaky break at the start. Trainer is dangerous in graded stakes and the rail is winning at an 18 percent clip so don't discount this one if his price starts to climb at post time.
2 - Scatman (Lauer, Quinonez) The son of Scat Daddy finished second in the Southwest at odds of 10-1 behind Secret Circle and comes into the race third off the layoff for trainer Michael Lauer. Local rider Quinonez retains the mount and knows the Oaklawn track well. Sports a solid work on Mar. 10 going 5-furlongs and could be poised to emerge in this race as Oaklawn's main contender.
3 - Cyber Secret (Whiting, Albarado) Loses rider to the Asmussen horse on the rail, comes off a bullet work and has faced decent competition through the early stages of his racing career. If you're willing to forgive his last, he could upset with a big number on the board.
4 - Optimizer (Lukas, Court) Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas hasn't had as successful a meet as he did last year when he took the Oaklawn training title. He's only winning eight percent of his races to date and this English Channel colt hasn't regained the promising early form he showed at Saratoga last summer. Passing.
5 - Jake Mo (Milligan, Berry) Finished second in the split division Southwest Stakes behind Castaway, who decided to skip this race. Has a sharp workout on his tab and will have a hot jockey (24 percent) aboard. The Giacomo colt should be coming late and has a better chance if there's a hot pace on the front end.
6 - Sabercat (Asmussen, Nakatani) Off since his big win in the Delta Jackpot which launched him high up on the graded earnings board which puts him in the Derby if he should stay healthy. He may need a race before putting serious backing behind him. Has the breeding to stay the classic distances, as his sire Bluegrass Cat finished second in both the Derby and the Belmont Stakes and won the Haskell.
7 - Secret Circle (Baffert, Bejarano) Most likely the post time chalk, with the stellar connections and gaudy resume. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint champ already has proven he can win over this surface and comes into the race third off the layoff on the form cycle. It's hard to dismiss all the positives here. The one to beat.
8 - Atigun (McPeek, Thompson) Won an allowance last out, but looks overmatched against the class of horses running in this one. Been working well, but can't see it.
9 - Reckless Jerry (Smith, Rocco) Chestnut colt gains new rider after finishing third behind Castaway and Jake Mo, which looks to be the weaker of the two Southwest Stakes. First time at the distance, so we'll sit this one out with Jerry who should finish mid pack somewhere.
10 - Ring It Up (Richard, Wade) Red-hot trainer Chris Richard winning at a 29 percent, but this colt has only one win in eight tries and found the going tough in the Southwest finishing fourth, four lengths behind Castaway in the Southwest. We will be looking elsewhere.
11 - Pee H Dee (Richard, Ocampo) Richard's second entry in here also finished fourth, yet in the stronger Southwest division behind Secret Circle. He looks to be the better of the two entries and maybe worth using underneath in exotics.
12 - Najjaar (Peltz, Borel) Shadwell sends out the son of the 2006 Belmont champ Jazil , a deep closer in his own right. He will need lots of pace early to have a chance. There is some speed in here, but guessing a suicide duel on the front doesn't develop and that this one catches third or fourth in the late going.
13 - Adirondack King (Servis, Elliott) His daddy, Lawyer Ron, won this race in 2006 and other than the outside post, would have a good chance to threaten the top horses. He finished third behind Secret Circle and Scatman in the Southwest, but a good six lengths back. Possible, but not likely.
Post Time Outlook: 1 - Scatman; 2 - Secret Circle; 3 - Sabercat; 4 Najjaar
Good luck this weekend and let’s go cash some tickets!