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Saturday’s Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park has been split into divisions and six-time Rebel winner Bob Baffert will send out the favorite in each race. Unbeaten Grade I winner Improbable heads a field of nine in the first division and champion 2-year-old male Game Winner tops 10 runners in the second. The well-regarded Kentucky Derby contenders will make their initial start of 2019 and were re-routed to Oaklawn following the cancellation of last weekend’s San Felipe (GII) at Santa Anita.

     Originally valued at $1 million with 85 combined qualifying points toward a Kentucky Derby berth, each Rebel division is now worth $750,000. As part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, qualifying points are distributed based upon the original purse value so each division will award a total of 63.75 points to the top four finishers (37.5-15-7.5-3.75 scale)

     A three-time Grade I scorer, Game Winner capped a perfect season with a 2 ¼-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Churchill Downs and presently ranks fifth on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 30 points due to his 2-year-old accomplishments. Joel Rosario has the mount and Gary and Mary West own the son of Candy Ride.

     Game Winner will break from post 5 in the second division and his top rivals include Omaha Beach, a nine-length maiden winner in his last outing for Richard Mandella; Grade III winner Gunmetal Gray, who exits a runner-up in the Robert B. Lewis (GIII); and Captain Von Trapp, who will make his stakes debut for Steve Amussen following consecutive maiden and entry-level allowance wins at Oaklawn.

     Asmussen has a total of six runners entered, with a pair in the first and four in the second division.

     Improbable improved to three-for-three when romping by five lengths in the Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) in mid-December and has captured his last two stakes starts by a combined 12 ¼ lengths. His 100 BRIS Speed rating rates as easily the top last-out figure in his division and regular rider Drayden Van Dyke will be up. The City Zip colt is owned by WinStar Farm, the China Horse Club and Starlight Racing, the same connections of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.

     Galilean will try open rivals following a pair of convincing stakes wins over California-bred rivals. Other runners in the first division include Extra Hope, a sharp last-out allowance winner for Mandella; Springboard Mile upsetter Long Range Toddy, second in the Smarty Jones and third in the Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn for Asmussen; and Robert Lewis third-placer Easy Shot.

     A total of eight horses have shipped from Southern California for the Rebel. – James Scully/



BAFFERT REBEL DOMINANCE Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert already holds the record for the most Rebel Stakes (GII) victories with six but could add to that total with his star-powered duo of Game Winner and Improbable.

     Baffert most notably won the 2015 edition of the Rebel with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Baffert’s other Rebel victories were Lookin At Lucky (2010), The Factor (2011), Secret Circle (2012), Hoppertunity (2014) and Cupid (2016). – Kevin Kerstein


REBEL STAKES PRODUCTIVITY FOR KENTUCKY DERBY – Through 58 runnings of the Rebel Stakes, there have been three Kentucky Derby winners and the 1 1/8-mile race has produced a total of 53 Derby starters.

     American Pharoah (2015) was the last horse to exit the Rebel to win the Kentucky Derby. Other winners were Smarty Jones (2004) and Sunny’s Halo (1983).

     The total record for Rebel Stakes participants in the Kentucky Derby is 53-3-2-3. – Kevin Kerstein


TRIPLE CROWN NOMS DESSMAN, LAST JUDGMENT MAKE TWO-TURN DEBUT IN FIRST-LEVEL ALLOWANCE SATURDAY AT OAKLAWN – San Vicente (Grade II) runner-up Dessman and highly-regarded maiden winner Last Judgment will make their two-turn debut in Race 4 on Saturday at Oaklawn Park – a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

     Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, Dessman finished a nose behind Sparky Ville in the Feb. 10 San Vicente, run at seven furlongs. The $750,000 2-year-old purchase from the Fasig Tipton March Sale will remove blinkers for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

     Mathis Stable’s Last Judgment, a Florida-bred son of Congrats, broke his maiden Feb. 9 at Gulfstream Park. The colt has been based with trainer Todd Pletcher’s string at Palm Beach Downs in Florida and sports a :59.60 bullet breeze on March 9.

     Also in the field is Bloom Racing Stable’s Comedian, who broke his maiden Feb. 18 at Oaklawn Park for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

     Post time for Race 4 is 3:43 EDT.

ADDITIONAL TRIPLE CROWN NEWS – The Rebel will be the first race run in split divisions since the Road to the Kentucky Derby point series began in 2013. Prior to 2013, the last Kentucky Derby Championship Series race to be run in split divisions was the 1995 Risen Star. … Trainer Gregg Sacco reported Gotham Stakes (GIII) runner-up Mind Control would likely target the April 6 Wood Memorial (GII) where he will likely face Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner Tacitus. … Trainer Mike Maker stated Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) hero Somelikeithotbrown would return to dirt in the April 6 Blue Grass (GII) at Keeneland. … The backstretch at Churchill Downs is scheduled to open Tuesday and the first day of training is scheduled for Friday.



Date         Race                                        Track           Top 4 Points

March 16  Rebel (Div. 1)                            OP               37.5-15-7.5-3.75

March 16  Rebel (Div. 2)                            OP               37.5-15-7.5-3.75

March 23  Louisiana Derby                        FG               100-40-20-10

March 24  Sunland Derby                          Sun               50-20-10-5

March 30  UAE Derby                              Meydan        100-40-20-10

March 30  Florida Derby                            GP               100-40-20-10

March 31  Fukuryu#                                  Nakyama      40-16-8-4

April 6      Wood Memorial                        Aqu              100-40-20-10

April 6      Blue Grass                                Kee              100-40-20-10

April 6      Santa Anita Derby                      SA                100-40-20-10

April 11    Cardinal Condition*                   Chelmsford   30-12-6-3

April 13    Arkansas Derby                         OP               100-40-20-10

April 13    Lexington                                 Kee              20-8-4-2

# Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby

* European Road to the Kentucky Derby



·         Episode 7: A Big Race for an Intimate Track

·         Episode 6: A Potential Super Star

·         Episode 5: Follow Trainer Kelly Breen as he Trains Son of Orb  

·         Episode 4 :Kenny McPeek – The Underdog Trainer

·         Episode 3: Breeders’ Cup Battle Produces Early Derby Favorite R

·         Episode 2: A Twist in the Road at Keeneland

·         Episode 1: Neuroscience to the Iroquois Stakes

PAST PERFORMANCES & HISTORY Triple Crown Past Performances

 Rebel Stakes History

 Rebel Stakes (Div. 1) Past Performances

 Rebel Stakes (Div. 2) Past Performances



·      By looks alone, Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) winner Improbable could resemble last year’s Triple Crown hero Justify. The giant chestnut colt, with a white blaze down his face, has the similar markings to Justify but still has a much to prove on the racetrack before his résumé resembles the champion. Improbable won the Los Alamitos Futurity in December by five lengths and likely will be a heavy favorite in Saturday’s first division of the Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park. Improbable is owned by nearly the same connections as Justify – WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.

·      Owner information: China Horse Club’s Ah Khing Teo is an acclaimed architect and entrepreneur who planned and designed many buildings and cities including Malaysian’s government building in Putrajaya; the grandstand at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai which includes a five-star hotel, Imax theatre, and restaurants; the Meydan City Masterplan; and Bahria New Town in Pakistan. China Horse Club has won 16 major Grade I races around the world including the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), Irish Derby (GI), Epsom Derby (GI) in Ireland, and the Caufield Guineas (GI) in Australia.

        Jack Wolf’s Starlight Racing is a top partnership group in the U.S. with 23 Grade I victories including a win in the 2004 Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) with Ashado. Wolf started Starlight Racing in 2000 with his wife Laurie. A native of Louisville, Ky., Wolf was a professor and hedge fund manager with Columbus Partners in Atlanta before retiring to focus on racing.

        Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm is a leading breeder and owner through WinStar Farm, located in Versailles, Ky. Troutt is a native of Mt. Vernon, Ill. and began his interest in horse racing while attending Churchill Downs in college at Southern Illinois University. Troutt was the founder of Excel Communications, a long-distance telephone company prior to establishing WinStar in 2000.

·      Trainer information: Hall of Famer Bob Baffert is a five-time Kentucky Derby (GI) and two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer. Baffert, 66, grew up in Arizona on a cattle ranch where he began grooming and galloping horses for his father. Baffert became a jockey in 1971 but couldn’t maintain his riding weight. Baffert owns four Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Trainer (1997-99 and 2015) and 196 Grade I victories. Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winners are Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (’98), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (’15) and Justify (’18). – Kevin Kerstein




Bill Mott has not been synonymous with the Kentucky Derby but the Hall of Fame trainer aims to change the narrative this year. Tacitus established himself as one to watch with a stakes-record setting win in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), ensuring a Kentucky Derby berth with the 50-point prize, and promising stablemates Country House and Hidden Scroll can stamp their tickets in the final round of prep races.

A three-time Eclipse Award winner, Mott gained the reputation as a turf trainer but seven of his 10 Breeders’ Cup wins have come on the main track. His dirt stars include Hall of Famer Cigar and future Hall of Famer Royal Delta; Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Drosselmeyer; champions Ajina and Escena; and current multiple Grade I winner Elate. Mott, who ranks seventh all-time with 4,900 wins (through March 12), excels with all types of horses but has previously lacked the stock for a serious Kentucky Derby bid, with Hofburg’s seventh at 27-1 odds last year representing the best finish from eight attempts.

Mott is now in a prime position with less than eight weeks remaining until the 145th Kentucky Derby and a lot of folks will be rooting for the well-respected veteran.

Last weekend also featured the Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct and Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) at Turfway Park and plenty of anticipation surrounds the next stop in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, Saturday’s Rebel (GII) at Oaklawn Park. Top-ranked contenders Game Winner and Improbable will make their three-year-old debut for Bob Baffert in separate divisions of the 1 1/16-mile Rebel.

Tampa Bay Derby

Tacitus made his first start since breaking his maiden at Aqueduct last November. By three-time North American leading sire Tapit, the gray colt is the first foal out of Close Hatches, the 2014 champion older female and an earner of more than $2.7 million. He’s bred to run long and Mott didn’t waste any time trying a sprint, debuting his pupil in a 1 1/16-mile race at Belmont last October. Tacitus graduated the second time out and returned from a 119-day layoff Saturday.

Jose Ortiz was up on the Juddmonte Farms homebred and Tacitus traveled wide from post 10 into the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby, rating in midpack. Similar to last Saturday’s Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream, the pace was hot in (:22.79, :45.85 and 1:09.57). Tacitus began to make slight headway upon reaching the far turn but wasn’t advancing rapidly and came under a ride before the completion of the bend.

He responded to Ortiz’s urgings with a solid turn of foot, splitting horses as he accelerated into stretch, and rallied past a pack of horses to win going away by 1 ¼ lengths. Tacitus was the only member of the field without a previous race this year and doesn’t appear to be a polished product by any means. It’s easy to envision further improvement and I came away encouraged by his first start against winners.

Off as the 8-1 fifth choice, Tacitus stopped the teletimer in 1:41.90, bettering the 1:42.36 mark set by eventual Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit in the 2017 Tampa Bay Derby. He registered a 95 BRIS Speed rating, which compares favorably to other prep races so far this year, and netted a triple-digit Late Pace figure (100).

Tacitus had been outworked by stablemate Hidden Scroll at Payson Park in late February and while that rival still has much to prove from a mental standpoint, both horses clearly have upside. And I like what I’ve seen from Risen Star (GII) runner-up Country House, who will make his final prep in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) on March 23. Baffert still owns the best hand presently, but Mott will continue to be a major player in the build-up to this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Outshine enjoyed a nice stalking trip in third and loomed a serious threat turning for home. He came up a little short when it counted but easily saved second. Trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher, Outshine tried two turns after a comfortable allowance tally at Gulfstream, his first start since an unplaced effort in the Tremont last year on Belmont Stakes week. The Malibu Moon colt is bred for longer distances but will need to show more in the stretch next time.

Win Win Win looked poised to blow by rivals when rallying wide into the stretch but woefully lacked the necessary finishing kick, barely edging weakening pacesetter Zenden for third. After setting a new track record in the seven-furlong Pasco at Tampa, the Hat Track colt disappointed in his first route attempt and may be better-suited to one-turn distances at this stage of his career.


Utilizing late-running theatrics, Haikal stretched his win streak to three in the one-mile Gotham. Kiaran McLaughlin trains the Shadwell Stable homebred and Rajiv Maragh has been up for all three victories at Aqueduct this winter.

He graduated at six furlongs in mid-December and entered the one-turn Gotham off a neck win in the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield on Feb. 9. Haikal dropped nearly 15 lengths behind as Much Better sped forward and established an eye-opening half-mile in :44.42 and still trailed by nearly 10 lengths with a quarter-mile remaining.

Mind Control, Instagrand and Much Better had separated themselves from the rest of the field by the stretch drive and appeared likely to compose the trifecta with a furlong remaining, but they grew extremely weary in the latter stages. Haikal rallied dramatically on the far outside to get up in the final strides, drawing off by a length under the wire, and received a commendable 102 BRIS Speed rating.

Haikal has progressed nicely and will stretch out for the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial (GI) on April 6, but I’m viewing him more of a closing sprinter/miler type until proven otherwise. He’s certainly built to thrive at one-turn distances and the son of Daaher counts Grade I-winning sprinter Takaful as a half-brother.

Instagrand did not disgrace himself finishing third, and is eligible to move forward significantly off his first start since mid-August, but the Kentucky Derby doesn’t appear to be a viable option for the future sprinter.

Jeff Ruby Steaks

Somelikeithotbrown picked up 20 points for a front-running victory on Turfway Park’s Polytrack, prevailing by 3 ¼ lengths over 45-1 outsider Dynamic Racer, and Mike Maker said the New York-bred son of Big Brown will switch to dirt for his final prep (most likely the Blue Grass [GII] on April 6).

Tough to expect much next time. The Skychai Racing and Sand Dollar Stable-owned colt opened this year with a facile tally in the Feb. 15 John Battaglia Memorial but hasn’t run fast in either Polytrack start (88 and 91 Speed ratings). He received a dismal 60 BRIS Late Pace rating in the Jeff Ruby after requiring 14.21 seconds to complete the final furlong.

A close third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI), Somelikeithotbrown proved to be a high-class performer on the sod last season and will ultimately point toward New York’s Turf Trinity showcase this summer, a new series for three-year-old turf horses worth a combined $5.25 million.


Oaklawn received 19 entries for the Rebel, including eight based in Southern California and six from the Steve Asmussen stable, and each division will be worth $750,000. Since the race was originally scheduled to feature a $1 million purse, qualifying points are now three-quarters of the initial value. That means a scale of 37.5-15-7.5-3.75 points to the respective top four finishers in each division.

Unbeaten Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) winner Improbable will be an odds-on favorite versus eight rivals in the first division. His challengers include Galilean, who will step up to face open company following a pair of runaway wins over California-bred stakes foes; and stakes victor Long Range Toddy, who rallied for second in the Smarty Jones and third in the Southwest (GIII) earlier in the meet. I give Extra Hope the best chance for an upset. Longer distances may pose an obstacle but 8 ½ furlongs looks like a perfect fit for the Shanghai Bobby colt following a sharp allowance win at Santa Anita.

Game Winner will meet nine opponents in the second division including Omaha Beach, who appears to be coming to hand for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella following an impressive nine-length maiden win. Mandella also has Extra Hope in the first division.


Scully’s Kentucky Derby Top 10

1 IMPROBABLE: Unbeaten GI winner returns in 1st division of Rebel

2 GAME WINNER: Champion 2yo tops 2nd division of Rebel

3 COUNTRY HOUSE: Risen Star runner-up brings late kick to Louisiana Derby

4 WAR OF WILL: Lecomte and Risen Star hero the one to beat in Louisiana Derby

5 CODE OF HONOR: Rebounded when trying two turns in Fountain of Youth

6 BOURBON WAR: Came flying late for second in Fountain of Youth

7 HIDDEN SCROLL: Will try to settle in Florida Derby with new jock Castellano

8 TACITUS: Opened year with late-running Tampa Bay Derby upset

9 ROADSTER: One to watch for Baffert off sharp allowance tally

10 GUNMETAL GRAY: His late kick could prove effective at some point


ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY OAKS CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES RETURNS TO ACTION NEXT WEEKEND WITH FAIR GROUNDS OAKS The Road to the Kentucky Oaks Championship Series will have a one-week layoff this weekend before returning to action on Saturday, March 23 with the Grade II, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks.

    The Fair Grounds Oaks, run at 1 1/16 miles, has produced several Longines Kentucky Oaks winners such as Ashado (2004), Summerly (2005), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Believe You Can (2012) and Untapable (2014).

    The Fair Grounds Oaks will award 100 points to the winner, 40 to the runner up, 20 to third and 10 to fourth.

    Also on the schedule next weekend, on Sunday, March 24, will be the Sunland Park Oaks which produced 2011 Longines Kentucky Oaks hero Plum Pretty.

    The Sunland Park Oaks will award the Top 4 finishers points on a 50-20-10-5 scale. – Kevin Kerstein