Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is No. 1 in Rebel Stakes victories, and his latest hope, Nadal, will break from post No. 1 in the $1 million Grade 2 race for 3-year-olds Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn.
Post positions for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel were drawn early Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Nadal and another Rebel entrant, American Theorem, arrived following a flight from Southern California.
“I just heard I got the 1 hole,” Baffert, in jest, said moments after the draw. “At least it’s consistent. We live in the 1 hole.”
Improbable, Baffert’s last starter in a major Kentucky Derby prep race at Oaklawn, finished second in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last April after breaking from the rail. Nadal (2 for 2) will try to go one better and remain unbeaten in his two-turn debut and first start outside California. Nadal, in his stakes debut, won the $200,000 San Vicente (G2) Feb. 9 at Santa Anita.
“He shipped really well,” Baffert said. “Just need a break now and find out if he handles two turns. Hopefully, he’ll keep the party going.”
The eight-horse Rebel field from the rail out: Nadal, Joel Rosario to ride, 117 pounds; Excession, Tyler Baze, 117; Basin, Javier Castellano, 117; Silver Prospector, Ricardo Santana Jr., 122; No Parole, Joe Talamo, 122; Three Technique, Luis Saez, 117; Coach Bahe, Santo Sajur, 117; and American Theorem, Tiago Pereira, 117.
Three Technique hasn’t started since a runner-up finish in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 24, Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races. American Theorem hasn’t started since finishing second in the $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (G1) Sept. 27 at Santa Anita. Basin will be making his first start since winning the $350,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) Sept. 2 at Saratoga. No Parole is unbeaten and untested in three career starts against Louisiana-bred competition, while Silver Prospector exits a one-length victory in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 17.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has three entrants (Excession, Basin and Silver Prospector). The Southwest was Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race.
The Rebel will offer 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby and is the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11.
Baffert is seeking his seventh Rebel victory after taking the race in 2010 (Lookin At Lucky), 2011 (The Factor), 2012 (Secret Circle), 2014 (Hoppertunity), 2015 (American Pharoah) and 2016 (Cupid). American Pharoah, who went on to sweep the Triple Crown, is the sire of American Theorem.
Probable post time for the Rebel, the 10th of 11 races, is 5:23 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:35 p.m.
Saturday’s program also features the $350,000 Essex Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles and the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
The Essex, which goes as race 8, drew seven entrants: Guest Suite, Night Ops, Laughing Fox, Bankit, Bravazo, Snapper Sinclair and Pioneer Spirit. The Essex is a major steppingstone to the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 18.
Entered in the Azeri, which goes as race 9, are Street Band, Mylady Curlin, Saracosa, Lady Apple, Serengeti Empress, Rahway and Awe Emma. The Azeri is the final major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 18.
Lightly raced Basin will make his long-awaited 3-year-old and two-turn debut in Saturday’s $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and Jackpot Farm (Terry Green and Ryne Poncik).
From the first crop of Liam’s Map, Basin hasn’t started since a sparkling 6 ½-length victory in the $350,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) Sept. 2 at Saratoga. Basin was targeting the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 5 at Keeneland before a minor lower leg injury sidelined the colt for the remainder of the year.
“Held my breath for a while now,” Poncik said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re not there yet, but hopefully we’ll get there.”
Basin (2 for 3) was to have made his two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity, Poncik said, before he was found to be a “little off” in his right hind (just above the pastern) in late September. A physical examination revealed a “little spot on his P1 fetlock” and bone was subsequently “shaved off,” Poncik said. Basin returned to the work tab in mid-January.
“Steve really, really took his time,” said Poncik, who is Green’s son-in-law. “I’ll tell you the truth, about four weeks ago, three weeks ago, I didn’t know if we were going to make a Derby prep because he was taking his time and pretty much letting Basin tell us when he was ready.”
Poncik said Basin signaled his readiness with a 5-furlong bullet workout (:59.20) Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds, where the colt had been based before shipping to Oaklawn earlier this month. Basin worked a half-mile in :51.80 Monday morning.
Among the horses to win Rebel in their 3-year-old debuts are Sunny’s Halo (1983), Victory Gallop (1998), Lookin At Lucky (2010) and American Pharoah (2015). Sunny’s Halo won the Kentucky Derby. Victory Gallop won the Belmont Stakes – the third leg of the Triple Crown – and was the country’s champion older male in 1999. Lookin At Lucky won the Preakness and was an Eclipse Award winner at 2 and 3. American Pharoah swept the Triple Crown en route to Horse of the Year honors.
Basin’s layoff – almost 6 ½ months – is longer than any of those four horses. All had two-turn experience, also.
“It’s the layoff and the two turns,” Poncik said. “Say he ran in the Futurity and a had a layoff, I would probably feel a little better, but it’s up in the air right now what to think. Just happy to be at another race.”
Poncik is a Houston businessman (oil and gas). He said Basin, purchased for $150,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, is named for the Permian Basin, a rich oil- and gas-producing region of west Texas. Green, a Mississippi casino magnate, is in a contentious fight for a casino license in Pope County (Arkansas), about 70 miles north of Hot Springs.
Jackpot Farm ran sixth in the 2018 Rebel with the Asmussen-trained Zing Zang.
Andrew Lerner became the seventh Southern California-based trainer to win at the meet when Canadian Game ($12.80) captured Sunday’s fifth race under Martin Garcia. It was the first career Oaklawn starter for Lerner, who trained the Curlin gelding for NHL player Erik Johnson. Canadian Game was claimed out his victory by trainer Bill Martin for $6,250. Other Southern California-based trainers – all with divisions this year at Oaklawn – to win at the meet are Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and John Sadler (five victories), Phil D’Amato and Doug O’Neill (four), Peter Miller (three) and Peter Eurton (two). … Sadler notched his fifth victory in Sunday’s ninth race with Astrologer, who broke his maiden for a $75,000 claiming tag for owner Hronis Racing LLC (Kosta Hronis). Astrologer was making his first start since Sadler claimed the 3-year-old Street Sense colt for $50,000 out of his Feb. 21 career debut. All of Sadler’s victories have been for Hronis. … Luis Quinonez enters Thursday’s card with 599 career Oaklawn victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Quinonez, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2007, is named on two horses Thursday. He has 3,816 career North American victories. … M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) enters Thursday 99 career Oaklawn victories, according to Equibase. M and M has two horses entered Thursday. It enters Thursday with a meet-best 16 victories this year after topping the standings in 2018 (21 victories) and last year (61), a single-season Oaklawn record. M and M’s first Oaklawn victory came in 2017. … Arkansas-bred star Hoonani Road is the 8-5 program favorite for Thursday’s seventh race, a state-bred allowance sprint. Hoonani Road won his first seven Oaklawn starts (all against state-breds), including three stakes, before finishing second to K J’s Nobility in a Feb. 22 state-bred allowance sprint. “He ran good,” said Wayne Catalano, who trains Hoonani Road for Jerry Caroom of Hot Springs. “That other horse is a good horse.” Catalano is using Thursday’s race as a prep for the $125,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes March 28, a 6-furlong race Hoonani Road won last year. … Through Sunday, the 27th day of the scheduled 57-day meeting, 217 claims had totaled $4,132,250. … Inside Straight, winner of the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses in 2017 at Oaklawn, will make his eventing debut March 21-22 in Tucson, Ariz., said Melanie Hall, who trains the 7-year-old Super Saver gelding. Inside Straight won the Oaklawn Handicap for Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s second-leading trainer the last three years. Diodoro had a meet-best 32 victories this year through Sunday.