The 2016 Kentucky Derby Trail makes a much anticipated stop at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas this Saturday for the running of this year’s Rebel Stakes.
Horse bettors all around the country will be dialed-into this event as the only major grades stakes race for three-year olds on the prep race schedule this weekend.
As a prelude to the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in mid-April at this same track, this year’s Rebel Stakes features a couple of legitimate contenders looking find a place in the field for another “Run for the Roses” in early May. After breaking down Saturday’s anticipated field, the following are my top two horses to wheel together as an exacta bet with our sports picks.
Rebel Stakes- Oaklawn Park
The Rebel is a Grade 2 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds and it will be contested on the dirt track at Oaklawn over a distance of 1 1/16 miles. The total prize purse for this year’s event has been set at $900,000.
Right now there is a full field of 14 horses listed as entered in Saturday’s Rebel and at the top of my list is Suddenbreakingnews. This three-year old Kentucky-bred gelding is trained by Donnie Hemel and ridden by jockey Luis Quinonez. What makes him standout from the rest of the entries in this race is the simple fact that he is the only horse coming off a victory in a graded stakes event.
On Feb. 15 at Oaklawn, he bested the field in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes over a distance of 1/16 miles giving him a significant edge for this Saturday. He also finished first or second in five races as a juvenile including a victory in the ungraded Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington Park in early November.
A great pairing in an exacta play for the Rebel would be famed trainer Bob Baffert’s Cupid. This three-year old Kentucky-bred colt was set to go last week in the San Felipe Stakes but ended-up a late scratch. He comes into this event with the highest Horse Racing Nation rating in the field at 6.77.
Cupid has been flying under the radar as a Kentucky Derby contender with no races as a juvenile to go along with a second place and first place run in a pair of Maiden Special Weight races at San Anita Park as a three-year old. It appears that Baffert might be trying to use the Rebel as Cupid’s coming out party with famed jockey Martin Garcia along for the ride.
Bonus Pick: Azeri Stakes- Oaklawn Park
On the undercard at Oaklawn this Saturday is the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes for four-year old fillies and up. The total prize purse for this stakes race is $300,000 and it will be contested on dirt over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
The field for this Grade 2 race at Oaklawn has eight horses listed as entered, but one horse stands out from the rest of the pack as a clear favorite. Untapable is a five-year old Kentucky-bred mare that is currently ranked No. 10 by HRN with a rating of 8.55 and she is my clear choice to win this race as well. Trained by Steve Asmussen, look for jockey Florent Geroux to once again get the ride.
Some of her recent career highlights include a victory in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Distaff over a distance of 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita and a first-place finish in last year’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn in early April. Her current streak of finishes in the money stands at eight.
My exacta pairing with Untapable for Saturday’s Azeri would be Sarah Sis. She is also ranked by HRN and she has a solid rating of 7.40. More importantly, she has a solid racing history at this track. Trained by Ingrid Mason and ridden by jockey Channing Hill, this four-year old Kentucky-bred filly has finished first or second in nine of 14 events over the course of her entire racing career.
One of her biggest wins came in the 2015 Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn in early March over a distance of 1 1/16 miles. She went on to win the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 17 to close-out a very successful three-year old campaign. Sarah Sis did fade to fourth in her four-year old debut at Oaklawn in the Grade 3 Bayakoa Stakes on Feb. 14, but I am looking for a better effort this time around.