The latest edition of the Rebel Stakes takes place at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on Saturday. The race has produced some great champions - Triple Crown race winners Curlin, Smarty Jones, Lookin at Lucky, Victory Gallop, Pine Bluff, Sunny's Halo, and Eclipse Award winners Will Take Charge and Lawyer Ron all won this race in their year. After last year, though, this race will mostly be remembered for just one thing - Triple crown winner American Pharoah used a win here as a stepping stone to his glory.
Last year we knew coming into this race that American Pharoah was a special horse, and as heavy favorite he more than proved himself - he won by more than six lengths in as easy a win as a horse can have. The outcome was even more impressive because the track was sloppy and the horse lost a shoe during the race.
This year's edition of the race doesn't offer an obvious superstar like it did last year, but with 14 horses heading to the starting gate there is no shortage of options for bettors. Here's a look at the highlights:
Suddenbreakingnews, Luis Quinonez, 3/1: We know that the favorite likes the track and the distance - he won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn at this same 1 1/16-mile distance in February. That doesn't tell even a fraction of the story of that race, though. He was 15 lengths off the lead early on and looked to be struggling, but he exploded down the stretch to win handily. He broke in the 13 hole in that race, so the fact that he is in the outside position in this full field this time isn't a particular concern. I get concerned about freakish performances from horses and their ability to reproduce them. The horse has impressive breeding, though - sire Mineshaft was Horse of the Year in 2003, and damsire Afleet Alex won the Preakness and Belmont in 2005. This is just his second graded stakes, so we don't know what we have from this horse besides lots of potential. Add it all up and it's tough to find value in him as the favorite - though I wouldn't be surprised if he did win.
Cupid, Martin Garcia, 7/2: A horse like this drives me crazy as a handicapper - he has run in only maiden races, and he took three tries to break that maiden. It is almost impossible to judge horses like this and what they are really capable of. There are three reasons he is getting this much attention here despite the lack of proven credentials, though. For starters, he is a son of Tapit, the hottest sire there is right now. Second, he was an impressive winner in that last maiden race, so he has captured the imagination of race watchers. He's worked great since as well. Finally, and most significantly, he is trained by Bob Baffert. Baffert obviously won this race - and so much more - last year with American Pharoah, so any horse of his in this spot is going to be bet down significantly. A very nice horse, but I need to wait and see more before I can justify this price.
Whitmore, Irad Ortiz Jr., 7/2: This horse looked like he had the Southwest won until Suddenbreakingnews unleashed his crazy move. He wound up second, and that was his best effort of his career. His trip wasn't great in that race, but it is far from certain that it will be better in this big field. I feel like a broken record, but I just don't see enough value at this price.
Creator, Ricardo Santana Jr. and Madtap, Corey Nakatani, 6/1 (entry): These two are an entry - a bet on either one is a bet on both - because they have the same owner and trainer. Creator is another son of Tapit - there are four in total in this race. He is making his stakes debut. He needed six tries to break his maiden, finishing second four times before the win last time out. This is a huge step up for him. Madtap is another Tapit son. He broke his maiden first try and had four allowance outings - with a win last time out being the highlight - since. Again he is taking a step up. Neither of these horses would be near 6/1 on their own - at least I sure would hope not - so I am not excited about the sum of their parts. I'll pass on this one.
The bottom line: This is not a betting race. The lowest-priced horses all have issues that rob them of value. The race feels like it could deliver a big price, but there isn't a long shot that stands out given the crowded and muddy field. I'll have a bet on Suddenbreakingnews just to make things a bit more interesting, but this race is just one to watch, learn from, and hope that more clarity emerges for this group going forward.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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