American Anthem, Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert’s hopeful for the $900,000 Rebel Stakes-G2 at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, will break from post 7 in the field of 11 3-year-olds when the promising but lightly-raced colt meets more experienced competition at this important juncture on the Kentucky Derby trail.
The Rebel offers 50-20-10-5 qualifying points for the Run for The Roses at Churchill Downs and Saturday’s test at 1 1/16 miles for sophomores highlights Oaklawn’s stacked 11-race card, which includes the $350,000 Azeri Stakes and the $250,000 Essex Handicap.
WinStar Farm, SF Bloodstock, and the China Horse Club’s American Anthem, who handled his first flight like a seasoned professional and arrived on the grounds from Southern California Tuesday with stablemate and Essex entrant Mor Spirit, is headed for the starting gate for just the third time.
American Anthem will be partnered with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who was aboard when the colt was decidedly game while losing by just a head in the Sham Stakes-G3 at Santa Anita last out January 7.
Speaking by phone from his west coast base right after the draw, Baffert noted that he hasn’t had time to take an in-depth look at the race but, was pleased that Uncontested will be in post 2, far to his horse’s inside.
Uncontested, who is a Wayne Catalano trainee and won the Smarty Jones Stakes here January 16, figures to set a very lively pace.
“Uncontested is a speedball,” Baffert said. “That’s good drew the 2. I think the break is important, but I’ll let Mike do what he wants to do. My horse is pretty quick, too, and he’s fast. He’s got natural speed. I’m glad that Uncontested is inside of us. That gives us some options, but you never know what Mike is going to do because he just plays it by the race.”
Baffert has won a record six of the past seven runnings of the Rebel with Cupid (2016), Triple Crown Champion, Horse of the Year and Arkansas Derby victor American Pharoah (2015), Hoppertunity (2014), Secret Circle (2012), The Factor (2011), and Lookin at Lucky (2010). But, he scoffed at the notion the Rebel could be renamed the Bob Baffert Invitational.
“I don’t think about it that way,” he said. “Not at all. I just feel very fortunate that I’ve had those good horses. The reason I’ve had so much success there is that those horses I brought up there are all really good horses.”
Might American Anthem, who is a son of the Baffert-trained 2012 Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister, add his name to that illustrious roster?
“This is a nice horse and he’s had two great races, so this will be a good race for him,” Baffert said. “He’s a bigger version of Bodemeister. Like father, like son. Actually, that’s caused him to pick up a lot of added pressure. We’re excited about him and he’s trained really well for this race. Hopefully, he’ll run well. But, we still need racing luck. I hope when we turn for home, he’s there.”
Wednesday morning American Anthem and Mor Spirit, who tuned up for their respective Oaklawn races with bullet six-furlong breezes in 1:11.3 handily when worked in company over the Santa Anita strip March 11, got familiar with their new surroundings and the track during routine easy 1 ¼ mile gallops with exercise rider Jody Piper aboard.
The striking and beautifully-conformed son of Bodemeister turned more than a few heads while being walked to and from the track by Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s longtime assistant.
“He is a beautiful horse, isn’t he?,” Baffert said. “He’s a big horse and Jimmy said he went over the track really well today. He’s running against some nice horses, but everybody at Win Star and the China Horse Club are excited about him.”
Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg said during training hours Wednesday morning that he still wasn’t sure whether sharp Feb. 20 maiden winner Appalachian Gem would run in the Rebel.
“Thinking about it,” Van Berg said. “I’m taking a long look or a long shot.”
From the first crop of 2012 Wood Memorial winner Gemologist, Appalachian Gem was a three-length maiden winner last month at 1 1/16 miles. It was his third career start.
Appalachian Gem was beaten a neck in his Jan. 15 career debut sprinting before finishing fourth behind Dilettante going a mile Jan. 29. Dilettante returned to run fifth in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20 and is being pointed for the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) March 26 at Sunland Park, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
Van Berg won the 1982 Rebel with Bold Style.
LOOKIN AT LEE
Rebel Stakes contender Lookin At Lee, who is trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, finished his final serious preparations by breezing 4 furlongs in 50 flat Wednesday morning under regular exercise rider Adolpho Garcia.
“He went nice and easy, looked good and remains right on track,” said Darren Fleming, who runs Asmussen's Oaklawn division. “He's doing well.”
The son of 2010 Rebel Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky makes his second start of the year after being rested following his fourth place finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). Closing like the proverbial freight train down the lane after breaking badly and encountering traffic trouble, he wound up a very credible fourth in the Southwest Stakes (G3) here in his last race.
With every right to improve from that effort, Lookin at Lee looks to add to his Kentucky Derby qualifying points total to date. He currently sits in 16th place for one of 20 starting gate berths with 12 points in his bank. Ricardo Santana, Jr., Oaklawn's leading rider over the last few seasons, is the regular rider and the pair will depart from the far outside post in the Rebel field of 11.
Asmussen, the holder of multiple Oaklawn leading trainer titles, will be on track for Saturday's card and will also saddle Bayakoa (G3) and Pippin Stakes winner Terra Promessa, who is undefeated in 2017, in the Azeri Stakes (G2). The New York based Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be aboard the filly for the first time Saturday.
With an embarrassment of riches in his barn where Triple Crown hopefuls are concerned, trainer Todd Pletcher opted to send the undefeated Malagacy to Hot Springs in hopes the son of Preakness winner Shackleford can keep moving forward on the Triple Crown trail.
Owned by Sumaya US Stable, the blazingly fast Malagacy has burned up the Gulfstream strip this winter, winning both of his two career efforts by a combined 22 lengths under multiple Eclipse Award-winning rider Javier Castellano, who sticks with the colt for the Rebel. The chilly morning temperatures and crisp, fresh air in Hot Springs seems to have lit an even bigger fire under Malagacy, who arrived on Monday from South Florida with stablemates Madefromlucky, Eskenformoney and Decorated Soldier.
“The ship was good, the horses all showed up here nice and healthy, and they absolutely love this weather,” said Adele Bellinger, Pletcher’s assistant who doubles as the exercise rider. “They are happy and they were all perked up out on the track today. Yesterday we just went straight off to let them see their surroundings without having too much time to think about stuff. Today, we got them out there to train as well as well as possible. They all had a regular gallop of 1 1/4 mile and backed up a few furlongs. We are just trying to keep them from being too happy out there.”
Malagacy has yet to negotiate two turns and will be stretching out from a 6 1/2 furlong sprint in his last February 12. The top line in his pedigree suggests that the 1 1/16 miles of the Rebel is within his command.
“Malagacy is a surprisingly nice horse and it’s nice to have those,” Bellinger said. “He’s always done everything right, but that first race (winning gate-to-wire by 15 lengths) was a ‘Wow’ race. He hasn’t gone that far yet, but he hasn’t showed any desire to slow down. I think this will be a very telling race. We’re excited about him.”
The chestnut colt has yet to earn a single Kentucky Derby qualifying point and needs to stay at the head of Pletcher’s class of top-notch Derby potentials, including 2016 Southwest Stakes-G3 winner One Liner, who did not return here for the Rebel.
On Saturday, Bellinger will also saddle millionaire Madefomlucky, who was second in the 2015 Rebel behind eventual Triple Crown champion, Arkansas Derby winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah, in the Essex Handicap and Eskenformoney in the Azeri Stakes. Decorated Soldier, winner of last year’s Northern Spur Stakes, was pointing for an allowance race but was not listed on the Saturday overnight sheet.
“The filly (Eskenformoney) is lovely. She is enjoying herself,” said Bellinger. “This is the first time I’ve ever taken her on the road and she was jumping out of her skin this morning. She’s on her toes and is just great. She always tries. Looking at the race, it will be a tough challenge, but maybe coming away from home will give her a bit of an edge.”
The graded stakes-winning Eskenformoney breaks from post 6 in the Azeri field of fillies and mares aged four and older and will also have the services of Castellano when making her second start of the season. Madefromlucky, also to be ridden by Castellano and a son of 2010 Rebel Stakes and two-time Eclipse Award winner Lookin At Lucky, drew outside in the field of 8 in the Essex.
“It’s special to be back with Madefromlucky two years later,” Bellinger said. “It’s nice to come in with a horse that you know. You know their habits so you feel a little more confident when you know their idiosyncrasies. He loves it here.”
After training hours on Wednesday, Malagacy and Madefromlucky schooled the paddock and had it all to themselves as there was no live racing.
Sol Kumin has purchased 25 percent of Petrov, who is scheduled to run in Saturday’s $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Wednesday morning.
Kumin has campaigned prominent horses like Preakness winner Exaggerator and Breeders’ Cup champions Wavell Avenue and Lady Eli the last few years.
Moquett said his Southern Springs Stables and Catherine Adams Hutt (Rialto Racing Stables) have retained 75 percent of Petrov. Moquett and Adams Hutt had been 50-50 partners in Petrov, who ran second in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 16 and $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20.
Although mostly recognized by Oaklawn fans as the trainer of two-time Apple Blossom Handicap winner and 2010 Horse of the Year, trainer John Sheriffs comes to Oaklawn for Saturday’s Rebel Stakes with the promising stakes winner Royal Mo. The 3-year-old Uncle Mo colt arrived in Hot Springs Tuesday following the same flight that brought fellow Rebel starters American Anthem and Sonneteer.
“He shipped in great,” Sheriffs said Wednesday morning. “He ate good. The cold doesn’t bother him. Horses like it.”
Sheriffs, who won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, has an enviable pair of nice colts for this year’s Triple Crown season. In addition to Royal Mo, he also trains Gormley, who was most recently forth in the San Felipe Stakes March 11 one race after beating American Anthem in Sham Stakes Jan. 7.
“Giacomo was a little different story,” Sheriffs said. “He was a closer. He always came from way out of it. He kept improving, but he didn’t win any of these preps, so we went into the Kentucky Derby a big longshot. These two colts are a little more forwardly placed in their races, so they’ve found some success earlier.”
Royal Mo is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, who also owned Zenyatta. Sheriffs said their experience at Oaklawn with Zenyatta contributed to the decision to bring Royal Mo here for the Rebel.
“I’ve been waiting to get back to Oaklawn for so long,” Sheriffs said. “My experience here with Zenyatta was off the charts great. It was fabulous. Oaklawn just has a special place in the racing community. You feel like part of the community here. When we drove in with Zenyatta we saw all these signs for her. Everyone was so supportive. It felt like a big family.”
Royal Mo galloped Wednesday over the Oaklawn track with Juan Jurado-Gutierrez.
MISS MO KELLY
For the first time in more than two months, trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs can talk with certainty about next-race plans for the best horse in his barn. Miss Mo Kelly will return to action in Saturday’s $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, Holthus said Wednesday morning.
“I’m going to run out of desperation of nowhere else to run,” Holthus said.
Miss Mo Kelly hasn’t started since running fifth behind Azeri-bound Terra Promessa in the $125,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 14. She was entered in subsequent allowance races at the meet, Holthus said, but they didn’t go because of insufficient entries.
Miss Mo Kelly was scratched from the $50,000 Jersey Lilly Turf Stakes Feb. 25 at Sam Houston because Holthus said he didn’t want to ship seven hours to run for that kind of money (allowance races at Oaklawn can go for $84,000). He also scratched Miss Mo Kelly from a stakes-level allowance/optional claimer last Friday against males.
“There were six horses in it when I entered, so I took a look,” Holthus said. “It came out with 11, and as tough as it was, I had no intentions of running, obviously, after I saw the field.”
Miss Mo Kelly scored her biggest career victory to date in the $100,000 She’s All In Handicap Dec. 11 at Remington Park. Terra Promessa finished seventh in the mile and 70-yard race.
Terra Promessa – in front-running fashion – returned to dominate the Pippin and $150,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 18.
Holthus said he hopes a solid pace Saturday with help the chances of late-running Miss Mo Kelly, adding Terra Promessa and the Todd Pletcher-trained Eskenformoney are the horses to beat.
“You get past those two, I think the rest of them are all, ‘Who runs their best race to have a chance.’ If I can be third, I’d be tickled to death.”
Holthus said Channing Hill is scheduled to ride Miss Mo Kelly in the Azeri. Hill rode Miss Mo Kelly to an entry-level allowance victory last March at Oaklawn. Overall, the 5-year-old daughter of Congrats, has a 3-6-3 record from 19 starts and earnings of $220,591.