It’s safe to say that the Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert knows how to win the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park.
Baffert has won the 8.5-furlong Kentucky Derby prep race a staggering six times in the last eight years, including with champions American Pharoah and Lookin at Lucky, so all eyes in the 2018 Rebel will surely be on Baffert’s well-regarded representative #3 Solomini.
Although Solomini has technically never won a graded stakes race, he has held his own against some of the best young horses in the country, running second in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes (behind Bolt d’Oro) and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (behind Good Magic) before edging the future graded stakes winners McKinzie and Instilled Regard in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I), only to be disqualified and placed third for causing interference in the homestretch.
None of Solomini’s Rebel rivals can boast comparable form lines and speed figures (he’s posted triple-digit BRIS numbers in his last two starts), though I still hesitate to embrace Solomini as the most likely winner. His seasonal debut was delayed after he spiked a temperature earlier this winter, and while he’s trained sharply in preparation for his return, he occasionally has trouble with lead changes and has a tendency to drift in while running down the homestretch. At a short price, I’m not convinced that he’s invulnerable to an upset.
Instead, I’m going to take a shot with #4 Magnum Moon. Trained by Todd Pletcher, who won the 2017 Rebel with Malagacy, Magnum Moon has made a very positive impression in his first two starts, breaking his maiden sprinting at Gulfstream by 4 ½ lengths (earning a 99 BRIS speed figure) before turning in a professional performance to win a one-mile and forty-yard allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs by two lengths. That effort was particularly noteworthy as Magnum Moon settled nicely behind rivals before effortlessly pouncing to the lead when guided to the outside by jockey Luis Saez.
Magnum Moon is bred to improve with maturity and has the versatility to work out a nice trip from just about anywhere in the field, giving him plenty of options in this large field. I think he has a bright future and can post a mild upset in his stakes debut.
Others to consider are #10 Combatant, second in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn last month; #7 Sporting Chance, winner of the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) last summer and third in the Southwest; and #2 Curlin’s Honor, who is 2-for-2 and recently returned from a layoff to win a six-furlong allowance race at Fair Grounds despite a traffic-filled trip.
Here’s how I would play the race: