Above all else I want just one thing from the Rebel Stakes this year - clarity. The road to the Kentucky Derby this year has been a total mess so far. Every time a horse seems like he is about to make a statement, he flops. And then there is Mastery - the ultimate reminder of why this is both the best and worst sport in the world. His win in the San Felipe was incredible. As he crossed the finish line I knew without question who I was betting on in the Derby. He was a man among boys. And then, a few strides later, he broke down and his career ended. So now we are back to not knowing much of anything about anything again.
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Over the last 13 years, the Rebel, which takes place on Saturday at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, has been on quite a hot streak. In 2004 Smarty Jones won the race en route to wins in the Derby and Preakness. Since then winners have included champion older male Lawyer Ron, Preakness winner and all-time legend Curlin, Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, three year old champion Will Take Charge, top current older male Hoppertunity, and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. No other prep race can boast a recent streak of success anything close to that.
So, will we have another superstar join those ranks? Or will this race be as confusing and frustrating as all the rest this year? Here's a look at the highlights of the 11-horse field (odds are track morning line):
American Anthem, Mike Smith, 2/1: Mastery was the star of the Bob Baffert stable this year, abut after his injury this horse is the best hope of the star trainer. He is a son of Bodemeister, who dominated the Arkansas Derby on this same Oaklawn track in 2012 before finishing second in both the Derby and Preakness. Mike Smith is aboard this one like he rode Mastery, so the colt is in very good hands. The distance is no concern, but he needs to be sure he doesn't get into too much of an early speed duel. This is a good field, but this is the top choice in the field as I see it. I hate this price, but that just means you'll have to get creative to maximize your return.
Malagacy, Javier Castellano, 4/1: This son of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford is one of many horses Todd Pletcher has on the Derby trail this year. The trainer has had a couple of surprisingly good performances so far - most notably with One Liner - so maybe this is his next. Malagacy has been very impressive in wins this year, but this race is a lot of firsts - first stakes start, first race beyond a sprint, and first time out of South Florida. There's a lot of upside here, but a ton of risk in backing him as I don't see how we can really understand him until we see him run at this level - which makes it very tough to handicap him here. My gut tells me there is no value at this price, but then my gut isn't much of a Pletcher fan, either.
Royal Mo, Victor Espinoza, 9/2: This is, not surprisingly, a son of Uncle Mo. That sire had three starters in the Derby last year in his first crop, including winner Nyquist. He has won two in a row, including the Robert B. Lewis last time out. There is plenty of talent here, and Espinoza has a golden touch when it comes to Derby horses. He comes from off the pace which should work well for him, but I don't have faith that he is quite good enough here. He's a factor but not a top pick.
Petrov, Jose Ortiz, 9/2: The good news is that this horse has already run in three stakes races, so there is plenty of experience. The issue, though, is that he has finished second in all three races - the last two here at Oaklawn. He's a nice horse, but I doubt that he is quite good enough. He has to be a factor on the bottom of exotics, but this price isn't particularly inspiring for other purposes.
Lookin at Lee, Ricardo Santana, Jr., 15/1: He's a son of Lookin at Lucky, so we know he suits this race. I find this colt very frustrating, though. Time and again over his career I have convinced myself he's ready for a big race. And every time he runs a solid race but isn't quite ready for primetime. In four graded stakes starts he has two seconds, a third and a fourth. He has to be a part of exotics bets - especially at this price - but until he takes a step forward and finally wins, I can't bet him on top.
Uncontested, Channing Hill, 10/1: This is one of those horses that has made this a very frustrating spring. He came from nowhere to win the Smarty Jones here at Oaklawn quite impressively in January. A month later he was back in the Southwest, again at Oaklawn, and it was a disaster. He was sixth and showed nothing. So which horse is he? Do we take him seriously or toss him? I lean towards the latter, but I didn't like him at all in the Smarty Jones, and had him among my choices in the Southwest, so I clearly have no idea.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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