With a purse of $900,000 and a record of producing top horses, the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) on March 17th at Oaklawn Park promised to be a major stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Suffice to say, the race lived up to expectations, with Magnum Moon delivering an impressive performance to defeat a field that included the proven Grade 1 competitors Solomini and Sporting Chance. Here are some of my thoughts on the top five finishers….
Magnum Moon (1st): He did little wrong in his stakes debut, tracking the pace while racing three wide and refusing to become unsettled despite racing in between horses. When jockey Luis Saez asked him to run, Magnum Moon put the race away with a big move coming off the turn, surging into the lead through a :25.13 fourth quarter-mile (solid for Oaklawn) and finishing up in :06.29 seconds to win by 3 ½ lengths with a final time of 1:42.68, good enough for a 100 BRIS speed figure. My only knock is that Magnum Moon drifted around through the final furlong, including a significant drift to the outside late in the race, though setting that aside there’s no doubt that Magnum Moon ran a huge race to bring his record to a perfect 3-for-3.
Solomini (2nd): Hopped out of the starting gate just a bit and subsequently found himself racing in a pocket along the inside, where he seemed uncomfortable in the kickback before settling into stride right behind the pace-setting Title Ready. But his troubles didn’t end there, as he briefly lost ground rounding the far turn and then had to check while trying to rally up the inside turning for home. When guided into the clear, he put in a determined run to edge Combatant in a battle for second place, although he never changed leads in the homestretch and was losing ground late to Magnum Moon.
Combatant (3rd): Broke outward at the start and then had a little trouble heading into the first turn before settling down, shifting to the inside, and making an eye-catching move around the far turn to reach contention at the top of the stretch. He briefly headed Solomini in the homestretch but was out-gamed by that rival in the final sixteenth and had to settle for third. He picked up ten more Kentucky Derby qualification points and could make the Derby field with a similar effort in his final prep, though after four straight second- and third-place finishes in stakes races on the Derby trail, he’s starting to strike me as a “pick up the pieces” type that may lack the extra sparkle needed to win against this caliber of competition.
Title Ready (4th): Went straight to the lead and carved out fractions of :23.42, :47.15, and 1:11.26 while being closely pursued by the eventual last-place finisher Curlin’s Honor. While he proved no match for the top three in the final furlong, he was best of the rest and wasn’t badly beaten in his stakes debut, though you can argue that he received the best trip of any horse in the race.
Sporting Chance (5th): Last year’s Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner was making his second start off a layoff and was expected to fire off a big run. His fifth-place finish was a bit disappointing under the circumstances, but he was facing a tough trip racing very wide on both turns, and he did put in a brief challenge on the far turn before tiring to finish just 2 ¼ lengths out of second place. A better trip next time out could see him improve his results.
Who impressed you the most in the Rebel Stakes?