The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, which holds court as the lone Kentucky Derby prep of consequence this weekend, has a Grade 1 winner in its field.

Caddo River-Rebel preview
Caddo River brings front-end speed, two-turn experience and Oaklawn familiarity to Saturday’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. (Image: Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park)

Bob Baffert doesn’t train 8/1 Get Her Number, the lone Grade 1 winner in Saturday’s Rebel at Oaklawn Park. Nor does Brad Cox. No, the two dominant training shadows on the Derby trail must content themselves with conditioning the two overriding favorites in the Rebel field.

Baffert, who owns seven of these Rebel titles, sends Concert Tour out from California as the 2/1 second favorite. Cox imports favorite Caddo River (9/5) from his Fair Grounds base in Louisiana. And bettors all over the map figure to wager accordingly in the last 50-20-10-5 Derby points prep. One that headlines a five-stakes Oaklawn card.

When it comes to meaningful Derby preps, the 1 1/16-mile Rebel enters the discussion. During the last decade, 23 horses exited the Rebel and entered the Derby starting gate. That includes 2010’s Lookin At Lucky, 2013’s Will Take Charge and – of course – 2015’s American Pharoah, who opened his eventual Triple Crown season by winning the Rebel.

Remember Rebel winner Nadal?

The previous decade brought you Derby and Preakness champion Smarty Jones (2004), Lawyer Ron (2006) and 2007 Preakness champion Curlin.

Last year’s winner, Nadal, was on his way to opening 2020’s Rebel/Derby starter account. He won the race, then the tougher of two Arkansas Derby divisions. Due to the pandemic, that race was held on what would have been Derby Saturday. One month later, Nadal – who would have been one of the Derby favorites – suffered a career-ending injury.

Baffert, who also ships in 12/1 Hozier, employed the Nadal template with Concert Tour, who makes his two-turn debut in the Rebel. Like Nadal, Concert Tour enters the proceedings unbeaten in two races, with the Grade 2 San Vicente on the resume. The son of 2007 Derby champion Street Sense brings strong form from his two previous races this year, along with a solid 1:11.4 six-furlong workout March 6.

Will eight Rebels be enough for Baffert?

He also brings the fastest Equibase Speed Figure (106) into the Rebel. This and his stalking, pace-pressing style give Baffert a powerful shot at Rebel win No. 8 and Oaklawn Derby prep No. 16.

“Concert Tour, I just think that he’s done everything right and he’s worked well coming into this race,” Baffert told Oaklawn’s Jennifer Hoyt.

Yes, Concert Tour has a shot at getting Baffert another Oaklawn prep – provided he can take Caddo River’s best shot. The 9/5 favorite is well-versed with not only going two turns, but Oaklawn, after he took apart the Smarty Jones field by 10 ¼ lengths in January.

Will Caddo River go off at odds-on again?

Because the Rebel is a much better field than the Smarty Jones, Caddo River may hold better value than he did wiring the Smarty Jones field at 3/5. But with Cox pulling the strings and the talented Florent Geroux letting out the reins, don’t expect a price here.

What you can expect is Geroux and Caddo River surging out from their rail post the moment the gates open. Here is your early and middle speed and if Caddo River controls the pace like he did his first two starts, Cox will own his third Oaklawn Derby prep this season. And own his third front-row Derby contender.

Aside from Caddo River in the Smarty Jones, Cox’s Essential Quality blew away the Southwest Stakes field Feb. 27. And Mandaloun took the Risen Star at Fair Grounds last month.

“He’s doing great. We couldn’t ask him to be training any better,” Cox told Hoyt. “He hasn’t missed anything. He’s on a great schedule and training like the part.”

Caddo River 2, Greatest Honour 0

When you burrow into Caddo River’s resume, it looks even better. Among his vanquished foes in two maiden races in New York last winter was Greatest Honour. All that horse has done this winter was own the Gulfstream Park Derby preps: winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull in January and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Feb. 27.

And then, there’s Keepmeinmind (4/1), who comes in off a 3 ½-month layoff. That’s when we saw him break his maiden in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club with a last-to-first burst. Trained by Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s training champion last year, Keepmeinmind was supposed to run the Southwest. But Diodoro called an audible after the two weather delays pushed the race back two weeks.

Grade 2 Rebel Stakes/Oaklawn Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Caddo River, 9/5 (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox)
  2. Big Lake, 12/1 (Ricardo Santana Jr./Steve Asmussen)
  3. Hozier, 12/1 (Martin Garcia/Bob Baffert)
  4. Get Her Number, 8/1 (Javier Castellano/Peter Miller)
  5. Twilight Blue, 15/1 (Brian Hernandez Jr./Joe Sharp)
  6. Keepmeinmind, 4/1 (David Cohen/Robertino Diodoro)
  7. Concert Tour, 2/1 (Joel Rosario/Bob Baffert)
  8. Super Stock, 6/1 (Joe Talamo/Steve Asmussen)

What this closer needs to shake off his rust is Concert Tour engaging Caddo River in a blinding speed duel. But his resume, which includes a second to Essential Quality in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and a third to him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, illustrates he belongs here. Even if his best Equibase is a 91.

Your lone Rebel Grade 1 winner has some rust

That brings us back to our one-and-only Grade 1 winner: Get Her Number. He too, makes his 3-year-old debut, but unlike Keepmeinmind, Get Her Number hasn’t run since September. That’s when the California-based, Peter Miller-trainee turned away a late challenge from Rombauer to win the Grade 1 American Pharoah at Santa Anita.

Both Rombauer and third-place Spielberg distinguished themselves coming out of that race. Rombauer won the El Camino Real and Spielberg captured the Los Alamitos Futurity. But Get Her Number’s speed number from that nearly six-month-ago race – an 88 Equibase – won’t scare anyone here. It’s the lowest top Equibase of anyone in the Rebel field.

The pick: Caddo River. Yes, Baffert front-line Derby products typically take two turns terrifically. Yes, Baffert might as well be the mayor of Oaklawn; such is his success there. And yes, use Concert Tour with Keepmeinmind in any vertical exotics. But Caddo River simply has too much going for him here: speed, connections, track familiarity, two-turn experience and a symbiotic relationship with Florent Geroux in the irons.