Rebel Stakes Preview

Kentucky Derby action continues on this week with the Grade 2 $600,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The mile-and-a-sixteenth event awards 50 points to the winner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby point system. A field of eight will enter the starting gate on the Hot Springs oval, which is headed by Southwest Stakes winner Tapiture who is the 9-5 morning line favorite, and already has 22 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with his most recent win in the Southwest and his victory last fall in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. He looks to be tough in this race with those two decisive wins under his belt and should be sitting close to the lead. The only concern with him in this race is that he may get pushed a bit on the front end. He doesn’t have to have the lead, but he does have a tendency to lay closer to the front. Street Strategy from the outside and Ride On Curlin from the rail should be up close as well, so the pace should be moderate up front. Should Tapiture bring his A-game on Saturday, he will be very tough to beat. Even if the pace is fast, class alone should allow him to perform well. Ricardo Santana, Jr. will be in the irons for trainer Steve Asmussen who won the Rebel with three times with Curlin (2007), Windward Passage (2002) and Snuck In (2000).

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won the Rebel Stakes twice before with Manastash Ridge (1989) and Will Take Charge (2013) and looks to rack up a third victory with Strong Mandate, who is coming off a runner-up effort behind Tapiture in the Southwest Stakes. If Tapiture isn't the class of the race, this son of Tiznow definitely is. He is the only horse in the field that is a Grade 1 winner when he won the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September. He currently has earned 6 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with his second place in the Southwest and his third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The West coast is well-represented in this field with Kobe’s Back and Hoppertunity. Kobe’s Back is coming off of a 5 ½ length victory in the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita Park last month, and has a come from behind running style. Look for him to be at the back of the pack early on, but making up ground toward the end. The only red flag that I could raise against him is regarding the distance. All of his wins have been in races around one turn and the only time he stepped up around two turns was in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity last year where he was soundly defeated finishing tenth beaten 27 ¾ lengths. Hoppertunity comes from the stable of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert who won three Rebels in a row from 2010-2012 with, Lookin at Lucky, The Factor and Super Ninety Nine, respectively. Last time out, Hoppertunity ran fourth beaten 7 lengths in the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. In recent years, Baffert shipped some of his Derby hopefuls to Oaklawn and has found success in doing so. Typically the ones that he does ship to Oaklawn are the ones that he has some higher hopes for, which leads me to believe that this son of Any Given Saturday could pull off an upset.

So in the Rebel Stakes, look for there to be a moderate pace up front with Tapiture sitting up close. Expect Kobe’s Back and Hoppertunity to come closing from behind toward the end. The Rebel Stakes is the 10th race on Oaklawn’s Saturday card and is scheduled to go off at 7:04 PM Eastern time.