Secret Circle made it two-for-two at Oaklawn Park by winning the Grade II Rebel Stakes despite having less than a dream trip.
In fourth place and looking like he may have been somewhat struggling through the first six furlongs, Secret Circle had to work to get into position to win -- with help from Rafael Bejarano's whip -- but he got the job done in the last few jumps to hit the finish line in 1:44.55.
Optimizer, a 27-1 outsider at the betting windows, made a furious late run to get second, three-quarters of a length behind Secret Circle, and robbing Scatman of the place spot. Scatman was third, 1 1/2 length back of Optimizer.
The race unfolded with Unbridled's Note scooting to the lead from the rail, and he led the field into the first turn with Scatman in hot pursuit, followed closely by Cyber Secret and Secret Circle. The first quarter-mile was timed in :23.43.
In the backstretch, Unbridled's Note and Scatman dueled for the lead while Cyber Secret rated behind them and Secret Circle was four wide and looking like he was threatening to fall back. Hitting the far turn, it was Unbridled's Note that began waving the white flag while Scatman went on, with Cyber Secret and Secret Circle still in pursuit.
With the half-mile in the book at :47.09, the early pace was a little slower than that of the shorter Grade III Southwest Stakes, and moderation prevailed with the first six furlongs recorded in 1:11.42.
At that point deep closer Najjaar was 13 lengths off the lead after being 20 back earlier, and Sabercat, the second choice in the betting, was in tenth place, 7 3/4 lengths back after lagging nearly 15 in arrears at the first two calls.
Scatman led as the field turned for home, but he wasn't shaking Secret Circle. With the latter one lugging out a bit, he slowly cut into Scatman's lead and took the lead with about 100 yards left. Just as that happened, Optimizer was closing ground with every stride to get up for second while Secret Circle held him safe, breaking up the Secret Circle-Scatman exacta.
Those three were followed by Jake Mo, Cyber Secret, Najjaar, Adirondack King, Sabercat, Pee H Dee, Reckless Jerry, Atigun and Unbridled's Note.
Secret Circle, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs, has now won five of six races, including the one-mile Southwest at Oaklawn. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is his longest race to date, and nine furlongs will undoubtedly be next on the menu. He was shipped from Santa Anita to Oaklawn for both the Southwest and Rebel.
A return to Oaklawn for the Grade I Arkansas Derby would make sense, considering Secret Circle's steady, successful progression in distance. Three days before the Rebel, trainer Bob Baffert said, “He might be a Derby horse. He keeps surprising me."
A son of Eddington, Secret Circle is out of the Dixieland Band mare Ragtime Hope. He was bought by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman at the OBS March 2011 2-year-olds in training sale for $165,000. Secret Circle was bred in Kentucky by Willmott Stables.
From the purse of $500,000, Secret Circle won $300,000, Optimizer $100,000, Scatman $50,000, Jake Mo $25,000, Cyber Secret $15,000 and the remaining runners $1,429 each.
Winning Jockey Rafael Bejarano, Secret Circle – “I’m glad they made the decision to bring him back here. It was the right decision. He was really ready today. The key was getting him to relax. He has lots of talent.”
Jim Barnes, assistant trainer to Bob Baffert, Secret Circle – “It looks like he will (keep going). Bob will decide all that, but we did what we had to today. He got the mile-sixteenth and showed he could rate a bit. I’ll be getting my room for the Arkansas Derby tomorrow.”
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, second with Optimizer – “We are real proud. We didn’t get beat by much – only about a half-length. They only get longer and tougher from here. That’s the way it goes.”
Jon Court, second aboard Optimizer – “I had to come four wide in the final drive. Two more jumps and I think I would have gotten there. I won three races today, and I think I would have traded them for this one. I’m not complaining because this horse is really nice.”
Trainer Mike Lauer, third with Scatman – “I’m disappointed. I thought we were right there at the eighth pole, but he just didn’t finish. I don’t know. He started relaxing a little bit in the stretch, and Luis said he did the same thing in his last race. We hope that’s something we can work on.”
Luis Quinonez, third aboard Scatman – “My horse tried to pull up on me a little at the sixteenth pole. I was able to get him going again, and he ran real smooth. He’s been running a mile, and I think he was thinking about that. He finished smooth. There were several times I thought we were going to win it. He’s a really nice horse.”
Trainer Lynn Whiting, fifth with Cyber Secret – “He was just pulling Robby right out of the pad. We are going to have to go back and make an adjustment, maybe take off the blinkers or something. He was chasing from the three-quarter pole, and he can’t win doing that."
Trainer Danny Peitz, sixth with Najjaar – “He was going backwards at the start. He made a nice run, but I wish he would have broke with the rest of them, so we’d know if he could have been closer. If he comes out of this good, we’ll look at the Arkansas Derby.”