Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes – By Eric Solomon

On paper, the $1,000,000 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes looks like one of the stronger Derby Prep races of the season so far. Brad Cox seems to have a pair of aces in this race, with Verifying (#1) and Giant Mischief (#5). Tim Yakteen has taken over the training from Bob Baffert for Reincarnate (#6), who is looking to win his second consecutive graded stakes race. Steve Asmussen, who has won this race four times, will send out a trio of runners, all with decent post positions. 

Historically, this race has produced five three year old champions since the turn of the century. Smarty Jones, Curlin, Lookin’ at Lucky, Will Take Charge, and American Pharoah were all victorious in this race en route to a Championship Three Year Old Campaign. In addition, Lawyer Ron was the winner of this race in 2006, and he would go on to be the Champion Older Male Horse in 2007. 

The track at Oaklawn was sloppy yesterday and the forecast calls for morning showers today with some clearing in the afternoon. I’d expect the track to be labeled no better than “good” for this race and I’ll handicap accordingly. Post time for this race is 5:23 (CT). 

Oaklawn Park Saturday 2/25/23, Race 11: The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes

100 Total Derby points (50/20/15/10/5)

1 – Verifying (2-1 ML, 28-1 Circa): He’s a half to the 2019 American Champion Older Dirt Female Horse, Midnight Bisou, and he’s coming off a very impressive three year old debut last month in allowance company. Both Gun Pilot and Two Eagles River, who finished behind him that day, came back to beat allowance foes in their subsequent starts. He was the runner up in the Champagne Stakes as a two year old and finished 6th despite a difficult trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year. He certainly appeared to be the real deal when crushing a good allowance field last time out. However, I do have a few trepidations with the favorite here. We’ve seen Brad Cox horses like Jace’s Road and Victory Formation run impressive races in spots where they had everything their own way. Both horses faltered in their next starts though when they struggled to make the front end. This horse definitely had an easy trip last out, however, at least he has drawn the rail for this challenge, which should allow him to be positioned wherever Florent Geroux wants him to be. He’s one to use, but 2-1 feels a little too low for me. 


2 – Powerful (20-1 ML, 400-1 ML): Steve Asmussen sends out three runners, and they are lumped together in gates two, three, and four for this race. This son of Nyquist will be making his three year old debut today after a four race two year old campaign. Three of those races were fairly sharp, including a stakes win in the Eddie Brown Stakes at Churchill back in November. However his three good races were all at one turn. His lone try at two turns was a disaster when facing Champion Colt, Forte, in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. I do think he had an excuse that day, breaking from Post 13, and then getting away slowly from the gate. While I’d be willing to give him another shot in a route race, I’m not sure he’s the same caliber as some of the top horses in this race. 


3 – Red Route One (10-1 ML, 30-1 Circa / 65-1 Caesars): He was a game second behind Arabian Knight in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes last month when making his three year old debut. He ran a career top figure that day while closing from last to be the runner up. He’s never won a race on the dirt, but he has some competitive efforts, including a third place finish behind Forte and Loggins in the Breeders’ Futurity in October. He never really got a chance to run in the Kentucky Jockey Club, as he was covered up most of the way. He does continue to improve and he should get a solid pace to close into. I think he’s a player in the bottom of the exotics and he could do better with the right trip and setup.


4 – Gun PIlot (8-1 ML, 80-1 Circa): He changed tactics last out and cleared the N2L allowance condition as a heavy favorite. Asmussen brings this Gun Runner colt back three weeks later for a rematch against Verifying. He set the tempo that day, but he was no match for the favorite in that race. While it was nice to see him last time out, the field that he beat was not as strong as the allowance group from two starts back. He paired his Beyers from his last two starts, so he could be ready to take a step forward. However, I’m not sure he’s made enough progress to make up the five lengths on Verifying. 


5 – Giant Mischief (5-2 ML, 50-1 Circa): He burst onto the scene on Breeders’ Cup Weekend back in November when he gamely defeated Bob Baffert’s Arabian Lion in a seven furlong sprint at Keeneland. He tried two turns back in December when running the Remington Springboard Mile. He broke last that evening and came with a wide bid before flattening out to finish second. Irad Ortiz will ride for the first time today as Florent Geroux will pilot his stablemate, Verifying, for the first time. His dam, Vertical Oak, was a multiple graded stakes winning sprinter, so I’m not sure how far he wants to go. However, I do think this distance will be within his realm of capabilities. In addition, the dam was excellent when racing on off tracks. Her biggest win was in the Grade 2 Prioress, which was a romp in the slop. I think he’ll sit a better trip today and get the job done. 


6 – Reincarnate (7-2 ML, 50-1 Circa): John Velasquez comes back to Arkansas after winning the Southwest Stakes last month with Arabian Knight. He’ll try to take home another trophy aboard this Good Magic colt, who was recently transferred from Bob Baffert to Tim Yakteen. In order to be eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby, horses trained by Baffert must be transferred to another trainer prior to the end of this month. Reincarnate was the upset winner of the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at the beginning of January at Santa Anita. It took him four tries to break his maiden, finishing second in his first three starts, two of which were on the turf. He had his breakthrough win at Del Mar two starts back, which certainly seemed to give him confidence heading into stakes company. He looked like he was going to do the heavy lifting on the front end to set the table for either Newgate or National Treasure. However, he dueled on the front end and continued to find down the stretch, holding off his stablemate by a neck. Newgate flattered him by coming back to win the all-Baffert Robert B. Lewis Stakes earlier this month. Velasquez sent Arabian Knight hard for the front end from this same post position, getting the jump on the early speed inside of him. This horse is bigger and might not have that same explosive jump from the gate, which may cause him to be wide into the first turn, with as many of three rivals inside of him jockeying for early position. He appears to be following a typical Baffert work pattern, so I do feel he’ll be at his best for this race. 


7 – Confidence Game (15-1 ML, 100-1 Circa): With the Risen Star drawing a bulky field of 14 last week, Keith Desourmeaux opted to ship to Hot Springs in favor of this spot. However, by doing so, I think he’s facing a deeper field, even if there are a few less runners. He was third last month in the Lecomte, almost eight lengths behind Instant Coffee. He’s at his best when he’s up near the pace, but like Reincarnate, he might have to work hard to secure that position. James Graham is coming in from the Fair Grounds to ride him and another longer priced horse in the Grade 3 Honeybee. I don’t think he’s ready to beat some of the best in this bunch. 


8 – Talladega (30-1 ML): Flavien Prat will ride this outsider for the second time after guiding him to a front running victory in a maiden special weight race on the Southwest undercard here last month. In a field of pricy purchases, he was the most expensive, fetching $850K at the Keeneland September Sale in 2021. He changed tactics that day and found himself on the front end early. I don’t see Prat being able to secure that kind of position today and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to take that big of a step forward to beat this group.


9 – Event Detail (30-1 ML): As longshots go, this runner for OXO Equine and Paulo Lobo might be the most interesting. They’ll ship this son of City of Light to town after an impressive maiden breaking performance on the Tapeta at Turfway last month. He was 6th in his debut at Churchill, which was his only career try on traditional dirt so far. Nice horses like Corona Bolt and Communication Memo finished in front of him that day. He’s been much better since moving to two turns, so I can give him another chance on the main track. The dam did most of her work in her career on the turf, so he’ll be relying on City of Light’s ability. That one ran his best career race in the slop in the Pegasus World Cup in his career finale. He’ll be one coming from the back of the pack, so I do foresee a decent pace for him to close into. I think winning might be a stretch, but he might be a horse that could be a splash play underneath in the vertical exotics. 


10 – Bourbon Bash (20-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): The two most experienced runners in the field are stuck in the outside two posts. He’s another son of City of Light, who was second to Gun Pilot in an allowance race three weeks ago. While he has been improving gradually, four other runners in this race have finished ahead of him in his last five starts. I don’t think the outside post does him any favors either. I prefer others here. 


11 – Frosted Departure (20-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): He definitely ran a huge race in his two turn debut in the slop in the Southwest Stakes last month. He used his sprinter’s speed to try to go with the superior Arabian Knight in the early stages. He was chasing most of the race, but he dug in and finished in front of some nice horses when holding on for third. He’s making his 11th start today, and much like Bourbon Bash, this post is not ideal for the race he wants to run. Francisco Arrieta is likely committed to gun for the front here, which is not likely going to end well. A wet track won’t hurt his chances, but I think it upgrades some others here. Under different circumstances, I could see him as a horse that could possibly be a spoiler in this race, but in this spot, I’ll be playing against him. 


The Verdict: 5-3-1



Assuming we’re dealing with an off track, I think Giant Mischief (#5) is going to have the edge in this race. His dam relished the slop, and while it likely won’t be raining, there’s been enough rain in the area yesterday and today to make sure there will be moisture in the track. I think his last race was better than it looked on paper, and I see that as an important learning experience. I’m not completely sure about him as the races get longer, however, I think this distance will be fine for him. He gets Irad Ortiz aboard and appears to be able to adapt to whatever scenario transpires.


Red Route One (#3) figures to get the right set up in this race, and is the most accomplished of the horses that are going to be rolling late in this race. He ran well in the slop last out to be second to a very nice horse. Ricardo Santana opted for Gun Pilot, but I think this son of Gun Runner is more dangerous in this spot. Leading rider, Cristian Torres, fresh off his first graded stakes win here last weekend, is certainly not a bad replacement. 


Verifying (#1) and Reincarnate (#6) are definitely live runners, who have big races on their  resumes. Verifying has a champion half sister and is sired by a Triple Crown winner. If he doesn’t bounce. He’s going to be tough to beat. Reincarnate will be worth covering in what feels like a spread race. Perhaps this is a chance to get a little value on a Baffert horse at Oaklawn. Even though Yakteen is the trainer of record, all of the preparations going into the race came from Baffert. I do worry if he’s good enough to overcome a difficult trip though. 


Event Detail (#9) might not be on my multi-race tickets, but I’ll try to connect with him underneath, especially if his odds stay around his 30-1 morning line figure. I see him having more upside than most of the others here. Plus, I do think it’s likely that there will be a strong pace, so closers could be in position to run well.

We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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