2023 Rebel Stakes Recap

The $25,000 bargain yearling buy Confidence Game scored an 18.5-1 surprise when winning the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park Feb. 25.

Fifth in the Iroquois (G3) and third in the Lecomte (G3) earlier in the series, Confidence Game benefited from the strong pace set by Powerful and Frosted Departure. James Graham positioned him just off the pace and he rallied strongly, taking the lead at the top of the stretch and never relinquishing command.

The 50 points he earned for winning the Rebel took him to 57 points overall and the lead in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

Red Route One was nearly 20 lengths from the lead early on but rallied strongly around the final turn, failing to catch Confidence Game by a length. It was his fifth points-scoring run in a Derby Road prep, but despite none of those efforts bringing about a victory, he lay fourth on the Derby Road table after this race, courtesy of the 20 points he earned for second.

Sham (G3) winner Reincarnate, racing from the Tim Yakteen stable for the first time, gained ground in the second half of the race to take third and score his first 15 points on the Derby Road. Favorite Verifying stuck on for fourth after being close to the early speed, earning 10 points and taking his overall tally to 14, with Bourbon Bash earning his first five points in the series for finishing fifth.

Confidence Game is by Candy Ride out of a half-sister to Zenyatta and thus should have the required stamina for the 1 14-mile Kentucky Derby (G1).

By Alastair Bull

Rebel Stakes History

Although the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park dates back to 1961, its significance on the Road to the Kentucky Derby has increased by leaps and bounds since the turn of the century

Held annually in the middle of March, the Rebel awards Kentucky Derby qualification points to the top five finishers in a 50-20-15-10-5 basis, essentially guaranteeing the winner a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

Originally known as the Rebel Handicap, the Rebel first rose to prominence in 1980, when the victorious Temperence Hill went on to win the Belmont Stakes (G1) and earn champion 3-year-old male honors. Three years later, Sunny’s Halo parlayed a Rebel triumph into victory in the Kentucky Derby, which surely contributed to the race achieving Grade 3 status in 1990.

The Rebel was lengthened from 1 mile and 70 yards to its current distance of 1 116 miles in 1984, and the race continued to crank out high-profile runners through the 1990s and 2000s. A small sampling includes 1992 Preakness (G1) winner Pine Bluff, 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop, and beloved 2004 Kentucky Derby/Preakness hero Smarty Jones.

Beginning in 2004, the Rebel underwent a series of lucrative purse increases, climbing quickly from $125,000 to $1 million by 2020. The jump in prize money, coupled with a boost to Grade 2 status in 2008, prompted more and more talented horse to utilize the Rebel as a springboard toward the spring classics.

Indeed, the roster of Rebel winners during this timeframe reads like a “who’s who” of champions and classic winners. Lawyer Ron (2006), Curlin (2007), Lookin At Lucky (2010), Will Take Charge (2013), and American Pharoah (2015) all claimed top honors in the Rebel, and American Pharoah achieved special renown with his subsequent successes in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, becoming the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Triple Crown.

American Pharoah’s Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has been the dominant conditioner of Rebel winners, sending seven horses to the winner’s circle between 2010 and 2020. Yet the longstanding stakes record belongs to Vanlandingham, a Shug McGaughey trainee who clocked 1:41.00 in 1984. Vanlandingham later won three Grade 1 races on his way to champion older male honors of 1985.

All told, the Rebel produced 23 Kentucky Derby starters during the 2010s, averaging 2.3 per year. The race is—and will surely remain—one of the most important stops on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

By J. Keeler Johnson

Rebel Previews:

Mucciolo: Expert Pick of the Week: 2023 Rebel Stakes

Rogers and Kerstein: Inside the Kentucky Derby Podcast: Rebel Preview

Johnson: Study Guide: Rebel

Reilly: Verifying, Reincarnate square off in Rebel