The 2019 Rebel Stakes in Arkansas, a prep for the Kentucky Derby, has actually morphed into two preps this year.
A number of circumstances, led by the cancellation of the San Felipe last week, has left trainers with a surplus of horses ready to roll and looking for a place to run. Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs provides the best opportunity for the animals to maintain the pace of their training and fit in a race at the right time for a Kentucky run in May. Therefore, a surplus of horses entered the Rebel for this Saturday and there was such an overflow that the race has been divided into two sections. Both the eighth race and the 10th race on the card are now classified as the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes.
The only significance to the division of the race is that it makes it possible for Bob Baffert to train two winners of the Rebel this year. That is exactly what is going to happen, too. Improbable is going to win the eighth race and Game Winner will capture the 10th. I imagine FS2 will televise both races since they do all of the other preps live. The added race means one should go off around 5 pm and the other at 6.
My choice of Improbable to win the eighth is pretty simple. The horse has run three times, winning all three with better speed numbers in each outing, culminating in a 100 Brisnet number in December's Grade 1 at Los Alamitos. I would use Galilean as my other half of the exacta on the strength of his three wins and a very close second in his four races. Three of his numbers were in the 90s. Rounding out the trifecta is Classy John with three wins and two seconds in his five-race career. His numbers have all been 89 or better, though he's been running in state-bred races in Louisiana.
Extra Hope has been improving regularly and has never been worse than fourth in seven races, while Long Range Toddy sports three wins, a second, third and fourth.
The second division of the Rebel is even more tilted in one direction. Game Winner is the undefeated champion of this division, having gone 4-for-4 with a 103 in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November., and he's only getting better from what I can see. Our Braintrust has a couple wins and managed a 101 figure in New York last month, so he may be ready to move forward at this time. Omaha Beach had trouble breaking his maiden with a third and three straight seconds before a big effort garnered him a nine-length win in the slop at Santa Anita. He's definitely trending upward.
Gunmetal Gray has run in four graded stakes with a win in the G3 Sham in January. He has just one other win in six tries. Jersey Agenda has a couple wins with 90+ speed numbers, but his one stakes race was at this track and he was eighth.
Next week I should have a much better idea of where the three-year-olds fit in relationship to one another, so I can bring back the rankings. I'm just not ready to base it on what has taken place to date. Obviously, Game Winner would be on top, but a horse like Haikal, who broke through with a huge run last week to take the Gotham Stakes, might emerge Saturday and sweep away everything that seems apparent now. One thing I can guarantee, you won't get better than 2-5 odds on Game Winner this week and won't make any money.