The $900,000 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes headlines a serious ten-race card Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn Park.
The day of action in Hot Springs features three stakes events and a Pick 4 wager that commences in Race 7 and concludes with the main event scheduled for approximately 6:09 local time.
Here are my thoughts on the four races:
A high level optional claimer at six furlongs kicks things off.
#9 Mitole looks like the horse to beat for trainer Steve Asmussen. The $140,000 OBS April 2017 purchase comes in off a second place effort over the slop in the $125,000 Gazebo Stakes where he stumbled badly at the start. The son of Eskendereya was able to overcome the less than ideal break from the gate to find his normal place up front, but in the end he was unable to hold off the eventual winner earning his second runner-up finish in four career tries.
If Mitole is able to get out of that gate in good order on Saturday and avoid a cutthroat duel on the front end with the speed horses drawn to his inside he should be able to get his initial victory versus winners. However, if they go too fast early on it could set things up for a runner from off the pace.
I will single Mitole on one ticket and include #5 Ike, #1 Beautiful Game and #10 Infinity Squared on the other.
The first of three stakes races scheduled for Saturday is the $300,000 Essex Handicap.
The mile and a sixteenth event for four year olds and upward drew a competitive field of 11 led by lukewarm 3-1-morning line favorite #5 Dazzling Gem. The Steve Landers Racing runner comes off a sixth length win in the slop versus lesser and has won 3 of 6 over the Oaklawn surface. If Gary Stevens can work out a clean trip from off the pace, this son of Misremembered has a shot to make it two in a row.
I respect Dazzling Gem, but prefer the chances of #2 Hedge Fund. The four-year-old won just 1 of 4 at the age of 3, but did pick up a pair of top 3 finishes in graded stakes events, including a head defeat to Essex rival #11 Multiplier in last year’s rendition of the Grade 3 Illinois Derby. He looks to have a pace edge on his chief rivals in this spot.
Jose Ortiz rode Hedge Fund for the initial time in his 2018 debut and is in Arkansas on Saturday to ride the son of Super Saver. If the Eclipse Award winning rider can make another clear lead he will be tough to catch in his second try off the near nine-month layoff.
I will single Hedge Fund on the second of my two tickets and include several on the one singled to Mitole in the seventh.
The Grade 2 Azeri is up next. The mile and a sixteenth event named after the 2002 Horse of the Year drew a competitive field of eight fillies and mares in search of the lion’s share of the $350,000 purse.
I lack a strong opinion in the 2018 Azeri, so I will use several including top choice #8 Blue Prize. The five-year-old mare races for the first time since an eight and a half length romp in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap last November at Churchill Downs. She will need to be ready to fire fresh to beat this group, but if she replicates her last she will be very tough to handle. My main concern is that she may need one off the bench.
Eighty-five “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying points, fifty to the winner, are on the line in the featured Rebel Stakes.
#3 Solomini is likely to go off the significant favorite as the Zayat Stables colt makes his first start since being disqualified from first and placed third in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity last December. The son of Curlin brings the strongest resume into the race having finished in the top 3 in three straight Grade 1 events in Southern California. Furthermore, he churned out the only two triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings in the group with a 100 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile followed up by a 101 in the aforementioned Futurity.
I understand why Solomini will take a ton of support at the windows and why he is so high on several of my colleagues Kentucky Derby Top 10 lists, but I need to see him do it as a three-year-old before I jump aboard. The consistency displayed by the son of Curlin is noteworthy, but I still struggle to see this colt as one of the elite members of his crop.
Solomini has every right to be a better colt than the one we saw earn $472,000 as a two-year-old, but at a likely short price I will try to beat him in the Rebel. The price is just lower than I am willing to accept.
#4 Magnum Moon making his first start against stakes foes and #7 Sporting Chance hoping to move forward after shaking off the rust last time out in the Grade 3 Southwest are my top two choices. I also give long shot looks to #1 Title Ready off of a strong 2018 debut and #9 Zing Zang who should be rolling from the back if the pace is contentious early.
Here is how I will attack the sequence:
Ticket 1: (50 cent P4)
Race 7: 9
Race 8: 1+2+5+11
Race 9: 1+2+7+8
Race 10: 1+4+7+9
Ticket Price: $32
Ticket 2: (50 cent P4)
Race 7: 1+5+9+10
Race 8: 2
Race 9: 1+2+7+8
Race 10: 1+4+7+9
Ticket Price: $32
Total Budget: $64