- Road to the Kentucky Derby
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Sabercat, Secret Circle highlight 13-horse Rebel
Eleven of the 13 contestants in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel Stakes are based locally at Oaklawn Park, but Southern California invaders Sabercat and Secret Circle are the top draws in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Derby prep race for three-year-olds.
Sabercat will make his first start since winning the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes last November. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the dark bay colt guaranteed himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby field with the $600,000 winner's share, rallying from the back of the field to win going by four lengths, and is returning off a 119-day hiatus Saturday.
A son of Bluegrass Cat, Sabercat will bring a three-race win skein into the Rebel, winning a maiden special weight and the Garden State Stakes at Monmouth Park prior to the Delta Jackpot, and receives a rider switch to Corey Nakatani. Nakatani guided the Asmussen-trained Nehro to a runner-up finish in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
Secret Circle exits a victory in the second division of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, track. He is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner who will be going for his third straight Rebel victory.
Unbeaten in three starts at shorter distances last year, including a front-running score in the inaugural edition of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, Secret Circle sustained his first setback when making his two-turn debut in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes on January 7. However, the Eddington colt did not run poorly in defeat, finishing a half-length second to the now-sidelined Out of Bounds, and came right back to post a commendable win in the Southwest, completing the one-mile distance a full second faster than the winner of the first division. Jockey Rafael Bejarano will retain the mount on the speedy bay.
Scatman, who showed the way before finishing a half-length second to Secret Circle, will likely show speed from post 2 Saturday. He likes the local oval, opening the year with an impressive win over entry-level allowance/optional claiming event at six furlongs, and will look to keep to moving forward in his second attempt at two turns. Regular rider Luis Quinonez has the call for trainer Michael Lauer. Adirondack King and Cyber Secret, the respective third- and fifth-place finishers in the second division of the Southwest, will also return in the Rebel.
Castaway, winner of the first division of the Southwest, did not make a return trip to Oaklawn, but runner-up Jake Mo and third-placer Reckless Jerry will both be back in the Rebel line-up. Atigun, fifth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his juvenile finale, will try stakes company again after opening 2012 with an allowance/optional claiming victory over the track. Najjaar will make his stakes bow following a pair of good-looking wins over maiden and allowance/optional claiming rivals at Oaklawn.