With a third straight Grade 2 Rebel Stakes victory sealed thanks to Secret Circle, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was eagerly looking forward to the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby next month at Oaklawn.
Secret Circle, a three-year-old son of Eddington, produced a slightly newer running style for the 1 1/16-mile race by stalking the pace from farther behind than he'd ever been in his previous starts. His ability to rate was very encouraging to Baffert as Secret Circle tries to prove he belongs among the top Triple Crown contenders.
"The win was exciting and the way he did it was promising," Baffert said by phone Sunday morning with reports from his assistants that Secret Circle was doing well. "It was a good schooling for him and I think he should get a lot out of it, although my guys tell me he was hardly blowing when he got back."
Secret Circle races for Watson, Pegram and Weitman, the same owners behind the first of Baffert's consecutive Rebel victors with champion Lookin at Lucky in 2010. Baffert followed up last year with The Factor then kept the ball rolling last month when he and jockey Rafael Bejarano swept both divisions of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. Secret Circle had the faster of the two divisions and now has the Rebel, leaving little doubt about which race will be next for the five-for-six Kentucky-bred.
"He's run well there and likes that track," Baffert said. "If everything is good over the next few weeks, we will definitely come back."
Baffert will point Castaway, the other Southwest division winner, to the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby outside El Paso this week. He also sees things with Secret Circle that need to be worked on back in his California lab.
"He keeps shutting it down too early," the horseman explained. "He kind of pulls himself up and throws out an anchor. I thought he was just going to blow by (pace-setter Scatman), but he waited a little bit. We can fix that with competition and try and work that out of him."
This latest Rebel win brings Baffert's career record at Oaklawn to 13 wins in 21 starts. The Arizona-native has won with four of his last five starters in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with the lone loss coming when The Factor finished seventh in the last year's Arkansas Derby. In the last three years, Baffert is 10-for-13 with three Rebel wins, three Southwest victories, a Grade 3 Azeri Stakes tally and two other six-figure stakes wins.