Friday, March 17, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Rebel Stakes (G2)

Rebel Stakes Showdown: American vs. Royal

By: Laurie Ross, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds
Over the last sixteen years, the Rebel Stakes has produced a roll call of elite stars that figure prominently in the Triple Crown events.Fans at Oaklawn have seen the likes of American Pharoah, Smarty Jones, Curlin, Afleet Alex, Lookin at Lucky, Oxbow and Creator compete in the 1 1/16 mile Grade 2 event. Steppenwolfer and Ride on Curlin, placed in the Rebel, plus the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, respectively. 

A field of eleven 2017 Kentucky Derby hopefuls are primed to contest the Rebel Stakes. The winner will earn 50 points towards a reservation in the Derby starting gate.

Oh say, can you see…
We all know that Bob Baffert ships his best Derby hopefuls to Oaklawn. Since Baffert started this practice, he’s won six of the last seven editions of the Rebel. The one time his horse didn’t win, he placed third. 

This year, Baffert’s hopes lie with American Anthem (Bodemeister - Indy's Windy, by A.P. Indy). Is American Anthem good enough to give Baffert his fourth consecutive Rebel Stakes trophy? As much as I like this horse, I’ll say not this time.

In January, American Anthem gave G1 Stakes hero Gormley all he could handle in the Sham Stakes. Gormley’s experience earned him the victory by a short nose.  The Grade 3 contest was essentially a one mile match race over an uncharacteristically muddy track at Santa Anita. In in the San Felipe Stakes last week, Gormely could manage no better than a tired, distant fourth place against the tragically brilliant Mastery

Warning signs for the Rebel favorite? I wonder how much the fight with Gormley took out of American Anthem. 

Additionally, American Anthem is making his third career start in the Rebel. His speed figure (Bris) jumped eight points from his maiden win to the Sham Stakes. Yes, American Anthem has two sharp works, but his final breeze with Mor Spirit was just so-so, and he was under pressure to stay with Mor Spirit past the wire. 

I love American Anthem’s pedigree, but his late pace speed figures hit a sour note and there are too many warning signs that he may regress. Read American Anthem’s pedigree profile.

Eeny Meeny Miny…
Royal Mo (Uncle Mo - Royal Irish Lass, by Saint Ballado) ruled his competition in the RB Lewis Stakes (G3) in February, beating Grade 1 placed Irap by a widening 3 ½ lengths. There’s a lot of speed in the Rebel. So, will Victor Espinoza employ the same tactics in the Rebel against cheap speed or try to rate? Royal Mo gets better with each start and he could be the one to beat.

Untrapped (Trappe Shot - Exit Three, by Giant's Causeway) was second in the LeComte and Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. He’s coming back in three weeks in an effort to gain more qualifying points for the Derby. His speed figures have improved with each start and he owns the highest late pace speed figure in the field.

Petrov (Flatter - Saracina, by Bertrando) was beaten like a roan headed stepchild, first by Uncontested in the Smarty Jones and then by One Liner in the Southwest. Ron Moquett’s charge likes to stalk the pace, but is developing a bad case of second-itis.  Petrov’s speed figures are improving with every start and he tries hard.

Speed Traps
Uncontested and Malagacy have speed to spare and may be winging it on the front end. If they hook up in a speed duel, it could run the rest into the ground and set the Rebel up for a one run closer.

Silver Bullion (Pioneerof the Nile - Love Buzz, by Silver Charm) regressed slightly in his first start against winners last time out, and Silver Bullion hasn’t shown the speed to be competitive here. 

Appalachian Gem (Gemologist - Briar Hill Dixie, by Dixieland Band) was a determined winner in his first try around two turns, and he has the pedigree to improve with maturity and some distance. Not much class in Appalachian Gem’s first two generations, but his third dam won the Marion Van Berg Memorial Hcp. Guess who trains Appalachian Gem? Jack Van Burg. And when was the last time you saw Gary Stevens on a 30-1 shot? Call me nostalgic, but I’m rootin’ for the old timers.

Bringing up the rear..
Lookin At Lee (Lookin At Lucky - Langara Lass, by Langfuhr) is one of those horses who make a furious rush from the back of the pack, but unlike Zenyatta or Victory Gallop, Lee never gets there in time. Maybe Ricardo Santana, Jr. needs to set the alarm clock for earlier in the race.

Sonneteer (Midnight Lute - Ours, by Half Ours) is a career maiden. But don’t be so quick to dismiss him. Sonneteer owns the second highest late pace speed figure in the field and his one-run style plays against him on the California tracks. Could he be a live longshot or is he this year’s Laoban?

Silver Dust (Tapit - Filare l'Oro, by Hard Spun) ate a lot of dust in the Southwest. He spent most of his time in traffic and passed tired horses to get a minor award a dozen lengths behind One Liner. Maybe he shook some of the dust off in his first 3YO start, but I think he’ll run into some dust busters here. He could step up for a minor award with an easier trip. Silver Dust’s dam won the 1 1/8 mile Virginia Oaks over the lawn and she’s a half-sister to the hard-knocking veteran handicap horse Gouldings Green.  Perhaps a surface change will bring out the shine for Silver Dust.

Final Thoughts
In the last ten editions of the Rebel Stakes, four winners led the field on a merry chase. Two pressed the pace, while three sat mid-pack early before making their moves. Only one was a closer.

The Play:

$2 Super Box: #10, #7 #4, #5 
$2 Super Box: #10, #11 #4, #5 
$2 Super Box: #7, #10, #6, #11 

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