Three Takeaways from the Rebel Stakes

Mar 19, 2020 by James Scully/

With the Kentucky Derby being rescheduled for Sept. 5, new qualifiers will be added to the points-based system that determines eligibility for the 20-horse field. Those details haven’t been finalized yet.

Points accumulated in Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifiers will still count.

The $1 million Rebel (G2) was contested sans spectators at Oaklawn Park on March 14, awarding points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers, and Nadal made his widely anticipated first start in a qualifier and two-turn debut.

Here are three takeaways from the Rebel:

1 – Nadal took it to the competition and displayed terrific resolve to remain unbeaten.

Nadal faced multiple early challengers, dueling on a wicked pace, and courageously turned back a fast-charging late runner to hold by about a length.

“We knew he was a good horse, but until they go two turns…and then the way it set up, the speed duel and all — pretty impressive when they can just keep going like that,” said Bob Baffert, who won his record seventh Rebel. “Only the really good ones can do that.”

A physically imposing son of Blame, Nadal will continue to bring high speed to future engagements. The bay registered 102 E1 and 105 E2 Brisnet Early Pace ratings in the Rebel, and has been determined to show the way in all three starts.

2 – Tractability lacking.

The rescheduling of the Kentucky Derby may turn out to be a blessing for Nadal, who is ultra-talented and a confirmed speedball at this stage of his career. He might be difficult to reel in at longer distances as the lone speed, but pace pressure can soften up front-runners unwilling to relax during the early stages.

Nadal didn’t break on top from the rail post in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel, and when No Parole hustled forward from post 5, the opportunity existed for Joel Rosario to settle momentarily and angle his mount outward for an up-close stalking trip. However, Nadal wants no part of those tactics at this stage in his career.

Hot and contested early fractions (:22.89, :46 and 1:11.38) took their toll in the Rebel, with Nadal completing the final five-sixteenths of a mile in 33.59 seconds (83 Late Pace rating). Other recent prep winners have finished significantly faster, with San Felipe (G2) victor Authentic being timed in :32.14; Fountain of Youth (G2) scorer Ete Indien in :31.72; and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner King Guillermo in approximately :31.13.

Considering Nadal did not make his career debut until Jan. 19, the additional four months of preparation can only help from a mental standpoint. He possesses the pedigree and frame to thrive at the 1 1/4-mile Derby distance, and five-time Derby winner Baffert will work to teach Nadal to relax.

3 – Baffert to remain prominent in build-up to rescheduled Derby.

Baffert won his sixth Kentucky Derby qualifying race since the series began last fall, and his top three Derby contenders have only eight starts between them. Nadal and Authentic are thrice raced, and up-and-coming Charlatan romped in his second career appearance last Saturday at Santa Anita.

With a deep roster of 3-year-olds, the Hall of Fame trainer is eligible to strengthen his hand over the four-month Derby postponement.

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