Like its Santa Anita counterpart, last weekend’s San Felipe, the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas is a Grade 2 Kentucky Derby prep race that boasts predictability, a blueblood pedigree of winners, and the ever-present Bob Baffert.

Nadal winning San Vicente
Seen here winning the San Vicente in January, Bob Baffert’s Nadal checks all the boxes for a Rebel Stakes winner. (Image: Eclipse Sportswire)

The Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile, two-turn test, is Saturday’s lone Derby prep and the marquee race at Oaklawn’s opening weekend. Due to the COVID-19 virus, it will be a marquee race without any spectators present. It offers 50-20-15-5 Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers, meaning win this race and you’re virtually guaranteed a spot in the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

It also offers a winner’s roll recognizable to even the casual racing fan.

This is the race in which American Pharoah began his 3-year-old campaign and eventual Triple Crown run with a 6 ¼-length destruction of the field. The Rebel is the race that vaunted Omaha Beach to Derby-favorite status last year, Curlin toward his impressive career in 2007, and Smarty Jones (2004) and Sunny’s Halo (1983) to Kentucky Derby titles.

Other notable winners at The Rebel include Hoppertunity (2014), Lookin At Lucky (2010), Victory Gallop (1998), and Pine Bluff (1992).

Keys to Winning the Rebel Stakes

All of these horses, save 2010 closer Lookin At Lucky, were blessed with an abundance of tactical speed. The Rebel is a race you don’t win from far back. Nine of the last 11 winners, and each of the last seven, were within two lengths of the lead after the first half-mile. Four of those went gate-to-wire.

What else do you look for in a Rebel winner? Carpetbaggers. Eight of the last 10 winners shipped in from either California or Florida, with only Long Range Toddy and Will Take Charge being locals.

And you look for carpetbaggers coming off a victory. Eight of the last 11 winners had won their previous race. The three who didn’t — Long Range Toddy, Hoppertunity and Will Take Charge — came off defeats in graded stakes Derby preps.

You can also look for low-priced horses. In the last 11 Rebels, the winner has gone off at odds greater than 4/1 only three times. Again, Will Take Charge was an outlier. He won at 28/1.

Rebel Stakes Odds

  1. Nadal, 5/2
  2. Excession, 30/1
  3. Basin, 3/1
  4. Silver Prospector, 7/2
  5. No Parole, 8/1
  6. Three Technique, 7/2
  7. Coach Bahe, 30/1
  8. American Theorem, 6/1

Another strong consideration would be the favorite put in an exotic. The top betting pick finished in first or second eight times since 2010, but won only four of those races.

Last but not least, it never hurts to see who Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert has in the race. The legendary trainer owns six Rebel victories and has trained nine of the last 11 favorites. His past 12 starters have produced six wins, three seconds, and a third.

Nadal Checks All the Boxes

When you look at all the variables for this year’s race, your eyes tend to gravitate toward Nadal, the 5/2 morning line favorite. This Baffert colt shipped in from California after capturing the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita last month. With serious speed and a pace-pressing style, he clocked a 107 Equibase figure in the San Vicente. Add in his 59.6-second, 5-furlong workout, which was the fastest among 58 horses at Santa Anita March 8, and he’s a natural pick.

Should Nadal’s favorite status and the fact this is his first two-turn race send your eye elsewhere, look to Basin (3/1) or Silver Prospector (7/2).

The Steve Asmussen-trained Basin makes his 3-year-old debut after a six-month hiatus. His stalking style is ideal for the Rebel; it carried him to two victories at Saratoga last summer, including the 7-furlong Runhappy Hopeful Stakes Labor Day in his last race.

Silver Prospector a Pick for Value Diggers

Also trained by Asmussen, who has won this race four times, Silver Prospector could provide value in exotics. He already has a graded stakes victory at Oaklawn, capturing the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes in January over this same distance. In this deeper field, Silver Prospector and his 21 Derby points will need to improve on his 103 Equibase Speed Figure, but a first or second would virtually get him into the Derby.

The other intriguing character offering exotic possibilities is Three Technique (7/2), who will draw plenty of money based on his connection. He’s owned by NFL Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Parcells and is named after a defensive football alignment where a defensive lineman positions himself on the outside shoulder of an offensive guard.

A stalker, Three Technique was favored in all five of his races, winning two and finishing second twice, but none of those were in waters this deep.

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