Brian Nadeau’s Road to the Triple Crown: The Rebel Stakes

Oaklawn Park: The Grade II, $900,000 Rebel at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 50-20-10-5

by Brian Nadeau

#1 Title Ready (8-1): Price player is the first of three for Asmussen and really impressed in his 3-year-old debut, when he added blinkers and walloped a N1X crew over the track and distance, while far surpassing his best 2-year-old figure, a trend we have seen time and again with newly minted sophomores this year. Son of More Than Ready lures José Ortiz, as he tackles stakes foes for the first time, from a ground-saving draw, too, so there’s plenty of reason for optimism, though this is obviously a big step up in class. Fans of these connections will get their guys at a nice number, and he is obviously on the improve, but this is a tough crew and he may need a spin against this kind before making a dent; possible for a share.

#2 Curlin’s Honor (12-1): Undefeated runner has shown a nose for the line for Casse, as he’s won both starts by a neck, albeit in slow time against far, far lesser than what he meets here. Son of Curlin has run only 6Fs, so he should like the added ground, and on the stretch-out he could be the inside speed, as there’s not a lot of pace and he could be keyed up facing a clubhouse turn for the first time. You have to give him credit for the Fair Grounds return win, as it was off a 4 1/2-month layoff, while facing winners for the first time, but even so, he needs to improve upwards of 10 lengths to even get a piece in here; tough to tout.

#3 Solomini (3-2): The last of the star 2yos to make his 3yo debut this year invades for Baffert, who has won countless OP graded 3yo stakes over the years, so there’s little doubt this guy is the one to beat, especially since he’s been blazing up the track at Santa Anita in the morning. If you’re looking to beat him, you’ll point to the fact he always seemed to be second-best last year, as Bolt d’Oro laughed at him in SA’s GI FrontRunner, and Good Magic did the same at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and while he did beat McKinzie and Instilled Regard in the GI Los Alamitos Futurity when last seen in December, he was subsequently DQ’d because of stretch interference. But even so, all of those runs likely are good enough to beat the best here, and you have to think he too will be improved this year, which means he’s going to be mighty tough to deny, at least today; seems a bit too tough for these.

#4 Magnum Moon (7-2): The wildcard enters undefeated in two starts for Pletcher and has built quite a following as he tackles graded foes for the first time, and both of the wins, the MSW at Gulfstream Park and two-turn optional-claimer at Tampa Bay Downs, were fast and visually impressive. Well-bred son of Malibu Moon gets the acid test today and will be asked to contend with Solomini after being an unraced maiden a little more than two months ago, so the hurdles here are not insignificant, to be sure. You have to respect this barn, and the talent this colt has shown is clearly substantial, but at false odds with a huge step up in class, it’s prudent to make him prove it before jumping aboard; trying to beat on top.

#5 Higher Power (20-1): Improving Pin Oak homebred has won two straight for Von Hemel, including his seasonal debut here in January, and will look to parlay that today, though he is clearly one of the bigger longshots in here. Beautifully-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro has a nice stalking gear that should ensure a good trip from this draw, but up to this point, he’s shown nothing to suggest he can compete in a salty spot like this; easy toss.

#6 Pryor (30-1): Wire-to-wire MSW winner needed his fourth career start and a muddy track to break through, and while he did look good doing it, that run won’t scare anyone here, especially if the track is fast for this. Moquett is once again enjoying a fine meet and this son of Paynter has become a better horse since getting to two turns two back, but at this point in his development, this is way too much, too soon; know him early, unlikely late.

Sporting Chance and Luis Saez at Saratoga. NYRA/Chelsea Durand

#7 Sporting Chance (5-1): Saratoga’s GI Hopeful winner at 2 came back off a September layoff and minor injury to be third in the local GIII Southwest last month, in what was a fine run after he encountered trouble on the backstretch and off the far turn, and you have to think he’s ready to move forward in a big way after that tightener, in what was his first start at two turns, too. Son of Tiznow should also trip out perfectly in here, as there’s not a ton of speed and he’s drawn outside of it, which means he should be in the right spot off the far turn for a Lukas barn that has taken its time with a runner they know has Triple Crown aspirations. On the face of it, he’s not yet to Solomini’s level, and he still may be a race or two away from his best, but there’s little doubt he’s jumping forward in a big way today, which will put him in the mix on the line; huge chance.

 

#8 High North (12-1): Cox charge is another who improved off his 2yo form when he was fifth in FG’s GII Risen Star last month, in what was his first start since a very troubled fourth in Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club (which has turned out to be a very key race) to end his freshman campaign in November. Pricey son of Midnight Lute won only once in four starts last year, but the return run suggests he’s a bigger, stronger sort this year, though he better be if he wants to play with the big guns here, as this is a much stronger field than the one he met in New Orleans. Come-from-behind type doesn’t appear to get a lot of help in terms of pace, and he’s behind a few of these on paper as it is, so anything but a small slice seems like a big ask; minor award appears his ceiling.

#9 Zing Zang (6-1): Deep, deep closer is the second from Asmussen and will need an epic pace meltdown to get there, after he passed a few drunk soldiers in the lane when fifth in the Southwest. Son of Tapit is surely bred to be a runner, but up to this point the light bulb has yet to go on, so with a negative race flow and modest form, he seems out of his element here; needs softer to threaten.

#10 Combatant (8-1): Versatile sort is the last of the Asmussen trio and has a license to be a big threat here after he was second in the Southwest after racing further back than he’s accustomed to, yet still putting forth a solid late effort to easily pass ‘Chance in the lane. Son of Scat Daddy may be just 1-for-5 lifetime, but he’s also made the exacta in four of them, and the second in the local Smarty Jones two back was very fast on paper, and actually better than anything Solomini did at 2 (in terms of Beyer Speed Figures), so he’s definitely in with a chance here. The other good thing is that the price will be right, as the public may view his last as a by-product of an off-track and optimum circumstances, so if he’s for you, then by all means swing away; price players have their hero.

 #11 Bode’s Maker (50-1): Ginormous longshot is just 1-for-9 lifetime and was 30-1 when he was a slow second in an AOC here just 14 days ago, so obviously he’s way, way overmatched in here. Son of Bodemeister will drop way back for Milligan and look to make a late run, but even with that strategy, it’s tough to think he can pass anyone in the lane; no chance.

 Selections:

 #3 Solomini

 #7 Sporting Chance

 #10 Combatant

 #4 Magnum Moon

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