Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is after his sixth Kentucky Derby win, and two of his horses are shaping up to give him an outstanding shot at the garland of roses.
Both Improbable and Game Winner are slated to race in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes, though they won’t have a chance to face one another. On Wednesday, it was announced the Kentucky Derby prep race would be the first to split off into two separate divisions since the qualifying point system was adopted in 2013. Following a temporary halt in racing at Santa Anita in order to evaluate the safety of the track, the Rebel chose to accommodate the horsemen who were now left looking for a race.
Improbable and Game Winner were both scheduled to run their 3-year-old debut races at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. Now, they’ll compete in the Rebel, the final major prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 13. Each division of the Rebel Stakes will award $750,000 and Kentucky Derby qualifying points distributed on a 37.5-15-7.5-3.75 scale to the top four horses.
Baffert comes into Saturday’s races with a record six first-place finishes in the Rebel Stakes. Both of his horses in Saturday’s $1 million Grade 2 race at Oaklawn are unbeaten so far.
In his last start, Game Winner (4 for 4 lifetime) earned an Eclipse Award for Champion 2-year-old male in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2. Improbable (3 for 3 lifetime) last raced on Dec. 8 in the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), which he won by five lengths.
Game Winner, with jockey Joel Rosario aboard, is the strong favorite with a morning line of 4-5 in the second division of the Rebel, which will run as Race 10 of the 11 race card. Gary and Mary West’s 3-year-old colt previously won the Del Mar Futurity, American Pharoah Stakes and Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, all Grade 1 stakes races.
Improbable and jockey Drayden Van Dyke enter as the 3-5 morning line favorite in the first division, though the colt will compete against a much tighter field, facing several experienced horses at the graded stakes level.
State-bred stakes winner Galilean (3-1), trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, and Long Range Toddy (10-1) are two horses to look out for in Improbable’s Rebel division. Galilean is coming off a first-place finish in Santa Anita on Feb. 18 in the California Cup Derby. Willis Horton Racing’s Long Range Toddy finished third in the Southwest Stakes in mid-February and second in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 25; both races were at Oaklawn.
While Game Winner is a seemingly obvious choice to earn Baffert another win at the Rebel Stakes, Improbable is less of a guarantee. He’ll be running on the outside and could struggle alongside Galilean in the No. 8 post position. Look for Flavien Prat to ride Galilean to victory in the No. 8 race.
You can catch all the action on Saturday, with post times set at 5:57 p.m. and 7:06 p.m. ET for the two Rebel Stakes races.