Brian’s Derby Preps: The Rebel

Oaklawn Park: The Grade II, $500,000 Southwest at 1 1/16 miles

#2 Unbridled’s Note: Looked good winning his debut at Churchill Downs last October and entered the first division of the local GIII Southwest as a hot horse in his seasonal debut, but had a rough trip and finished a well-beaten 9th. Asmussen forges on, though–a sign of confidence–and things have got to get better today after such a rough trip, right? He drew well and seems to have a ton of talent, and while a win might be out of reach, he could pick up a minor award; capable of adding some spice to your exotics.

#3 Scatman: Just missed to fellow rival Secret Circle in the faster division of the Southwest after dueling on the lead from the inside and relenting only very late. That was a huge run, all things considered, as it was his first two-turn start and first in a graded stakes too, so there’s a chance he could improve. The sticky part comes with the race flow, as once again ‘Secret figures to be lapped to his flank and never allow him a breather, all while having to negotiate another half-furlong (not to mention a longer stretch run with the finish line in its traditional location); respect his talent, but going to try and toss him completely today.

#4 Cyber Secret: Well-bred runner tried to make a middle move in Secret Circle’s Southwest before tiring badly in the lane, so right away you wonder if he’s classy enough. If you’re willing to be in the forgiving mood, then his local win two-back was monstrous and stamps him as a contender here, but you kind of get the feeling that was the exception rather than the rule; tough to tout today.

#5 Optimizer: Lukas runner hasn’t bridged the gap from 2 to 3, and it’s pretty clear after a pair of dismal dirt runs to start his year that he’s a synthetic/turf runner and the main track just isn’t for him. And while it’s never bad to have a Hall of Famer in your corner and the coach has pulled off about 73 bigger upsets than this, it’s tough to envision this colt adding to the legend; easy toss.

#6 Jake Mo: Finished a fine second in the slower division of the Southwest after rallying through the stretch, and you would figure the added ground and longer stretch will only help him today. He should also like the much faster pace he’ll get to rally into, as his SW division went painfully slow to the half-mile, which dulled his stretch run a bit. No doubt he’s a meaner and faster 3yo and Oaklawn certainly agrees with him, so going to give him a long look in all the slots; looms an exotics threat.

#7 Sabercat: Asmussen’s second runner makes his much anticipated 3yo debut after a juvenile season that ended with a trio of two-turn wins that climaxed with a romp in the GIII Delta Jackpot. He’s been a revelation of sorts since getting to two turns (all three wins have come at the trip), and his versatility is a big plus, as he’s won from the lead, from close range and from far back. The worry today is that he’s making his 3yo debut and has a ton of earnings in the bank, so there’s really no reason that the screws are going to be tightened when that kind of important race called the Kentucky Derby looms in about six weeks’ time; keying underneath, but not on top.

#8 Secret Circle: Baffert charge was visually impressive in his SW win as he was pulling away late after battling Scatman through some sharp splits. The song remains the same today as he figures to pull the same trip and hope to negotiate an extra half-furlong in the process. No doubt the waters get deeper, but he’s answered every question they’ve asked so far, is the best horse in the race, and will likely sit the best trip of anyone in here as well, so there’s really not much you can say except he’s clearly the one to beat; imposing.

#9 Atigun: McPeek runner was up late to win an optional claimer over the track and distance in January, and he returns off the respite today looking to make a dent in the local 3yo division. His running style should work well here, as there should be a solid pace, but up to this point he’s yet to run remotely fast enough to beat a group like this, let alone threaten them in the exotics; needs to show more to factor.

#10: Reckless Jerry: Ran a decent 3rd in the slower SW after sitting in midpack early and making a modest stretch run, so he’ll have to improve a bit to threaten this saltier group. His two local runs–he was also beaten a neck in the Smarty Jones–have been his best by far, so you know he likes it here and with a bit more pace to rally into, he could be that much tougher in the stretch, though at this point, others impress more; minor award may be his ceiling.

#1 Ring It Up: Finished 4th in the slower division of the SW after racing up close early and then tiring a bit late, so like ‘Jerry next door, he’s got some improving to do. Drew poorly again today (he was in post nine in the SW), so he runs the risk of being wide into the first turn, and as the most experienced member of the field with eight starts, you have to wonder if there’s any improving left in his body; siding against.

#1a Pee H Dee: Stepped way up and finished an encouraging fourth behind ‘Secret last time in what was a career-best run up to this point, so at least you know he’s heading in the right direction. Of course, he was beaten 8 lengths that day and has the top-3 of that race, not to mention some sharp new shooters, to deal with, so he better have another cracker in him if he wants to make his presence felt; just maybe for the bottom of the exotics.

#11 Najjaar: Intriguing runner is perfect in two OP starts (both at this distance too), and will bring a devastating stretch kick to the table in a race that we’ve already mentioned should have an honest pace. Peitz knows what to do with a good horse, and this son of Jazil seems to be coming to hand by the day; that last win, where he was 12 lengths behind early before rolling home late, was a real breakthrough. Steps way up today but the race flow should agree with him, and he has the look of the right, fresh, new face in a race that could very well fall apart in the lane; expecting him to be rolling late and get a big, big piece of this.

#12 Adirondack King: Stretched out and ran a fine third behind ‘Secret in the SW after finishing in the same spot in a Tampa sprint stakes to kick off his 3yo season. Son of Lawyer Ron ran by far his fastest race to date last time, so you have to wonder if he’ll bounce today, though it’s worth noting that the race flow should suit him again. Got no help from this draw but he figures to drop back, let them rattle early, and then try and make a late run. It’s not out of the question to think he can rally again for another piece; contention runs deep.

Selections:

#8 Secret Circle

#11 Najjaar

#7 Sabercat

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