The Brock Talk

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rebel Grads: The Champions and the Infamous

Although the Rebel Stakes (gr. 3) has produced two Kentucky Derby winners in Smarty Jones (photo) in 2004 and Sunny’s Halo in 1983, it has also produced other memorable winners of Triple Crown races and several champion 3-year-olds.

Last year trainer Bob Baffert brought champion 2-year-old Lookin at Lucky to Oaklawn Park for the 1-1/16 Rebel. Although he was not undefeated, having run a close second to Vale of York after a miserable trip in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. 1) in his only loss, he was at the time, the star of the 3-year-old class. Lookin at Lucky had also won the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park since the Breeders’ Cup, so he came into Hot Springs, Ark., as the winter-book choice for the Kentucky Derby.

After being significantly cut-off nearing the far turn by Dublin and jockey Corey Nakatani as the even money favorite in the Rebel, Lookin at Lucky rallied to win by a head over Noble’s Promise in his 2010 debut.

Traffic problems continued to haunt Looking at Lucky through losses in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) and Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1), but he was finally able to get a clear trip and won the Preakness Stakes. He would also go on to win the grade 1 Haskell Invitational and the grade 2 Indiana Derby on his way to being named Champion Three-Year-Old Male of 2010.

Three years earlier, Steve Asmussen brought Curlin to Oaklawn for the Rebel after breaking his maiden in his first start at Gulfstream Park in February. Curling would win the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby (gr. 2) and was second choice in the Derby. But he could only manage a third behind winner Street Sense and runner-up Hard Spun.

Curlin returned to win the Preakness Stakes before finishing second after a stretch-long duel with the filly Rags To Riches in the Belmont. Curlin then finished third in the Haskell in an upset by the ironically-named Any Given Saturday, but bounced back big to take the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) over Lawyer Ron, (winner of the 2006 Rebel). Curlin then went to Monmouth Park to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) and was named 2007 Horse of the Year as well as Champion Three-Year-Old Male.

Three years earlier trainer John Servis brought his undefeated 3-year-old colt Smarty Jones to Hot Springs to prepare for a run at the Kentucky Derby. Smarty Jones swept through Oaklawn taking the Southwest Stakes, Rebel and Arkansas Derby and went to gate at Churchill Downs as the post time favorite. He did not disappoint, becoming the first undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977.

Smarty Jones then won the Preakness but his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 failed when he was defeated by Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes. Like Majestic Prince before him in 1969, Smarty Jones went into the Belmont undefeated, finished second and never raced again. But unlike Majestic Prince, Smarty Jones was awared the Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year-Old Male.

One has to go back to 1980 to find the other Rebel graduate that went on to garner the champion 3-year-old title in Temperence Hill. Brought to Oaklawn by trainer Joseph B. Canty, Temperence Hill won the Arkansas Derby after the Rebel. But the trainer and owner John Ed Anthony decided to bypass the Derby and run instead in the Withers Stakes (gr. 3) at Aqueduct in New York, concerned that the colt needed some time to mature and overcome his laziness. Temperence Hill finished second in the Withers, missed the Preakness, then took the Belmont at odds of 43-1 over Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk and Preakness winner Codex.

Temperence Hill would then win the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Super Derby before he too would be named champion of his division that year.

Three years after Temperence Hill, Sunny's Halo (photo left) would win the Rebel, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby of 1983. He finished sixth in the Preakness after reports of a sore ankle and skipped the Belmont. He would finish fourth in the Arlington Classic and missed the Queen's Plate (gr. 1) at Woodbine, again from the bothersome ankle. He ended his career winning the Super Derby by 12 lengths in track record time, before the nagging injuries ended his career.

Twelve years after Temperence Hill, owner John Ed Anthony returned to his native state of Arkansas with Pine Bluff in 1992. After Pine Bluff won the Rebel, he defeated Lil E.Tee in the Arkansas Derby but finished fifth behind him in the Derby. Pine Bluff avenged the loss in the Preakness, but could only manage a third in the Belmont behind A.P. Indy.

A more infamous Rebel graduate that also would go on to win the Belmont Stakes was Victory Gallop. After the Rebel, Victory Gallop defeated defending Horse of the Year Favorite Trick in the Arkansas Derby but could only muster two seconds to Real Quiet in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But the 1-1/2 mile Belmont distance worked in Victory Gallop’s favor and he was able to deny Real Quiet his Triple Crown by catching him at the last moment to win the Belmont by a scant nose.

Saturday will be the 51st running of the Rebel Stakes and full gate of 13 has entered. Whether there is a future Derby, Preakness or Belmont winner in the bunch remains to be seen. But there is plenty of talent and plenty of stories in this group and somebody will eventually add to the lore that is Oaklawn Park's Rebel Stakes.

Click here for my Rebel Stakes Handicapping and Selections in ThoroFan.


Roseann said...

This is a packed field..plenty of action..thank you for the nice rundown on the hot springs heart will be with both sons of Alex..

Anonymous said...

Wonderful recounting of some of the best Rebel Stakes ever run! I think Oaklawn Park is rightfully becoming one of the more influential parks in the nation and it's Derby preps are second to none in my opinion.


Brock Sheridan said...

Thanks Brian and Roseann. In doing the research for this blog, I was surprised at how well the Rebel history compares to other races of it's stature (prep for the prep for the Kentucky Derby if you will) like the San Felipe, Fountain of Youth and Gotham.