California, Louisiana and Florida Shippers Converge
By Dick Downey
Updated 5:33 p.m. ET
The Rebel Stakes drew a field of 11 with a diverse cast of characters including three shippers coming in from California, one from Florida, one that arrived early from New Orleans, several local contenders and a couple of surprises.
American Anthem is lightly raced and has been off since he finished second by short head to Gormley in the Sham Stakes on Jan. 7. He was on the inside of the two-horse duel, with the rest of the field far behind at the finish. Bob Baffert has sent American Anthem out for regular works since the Sham.
“This is a nice horse and he’s had two great races, so this will be a good race for him,” Baffert said. “He’s a bigger version of Bodemeister. Like father, like son. Actually, that’s caused him to pick up a lot of added pressure. We’re excited about him and he’s trained really well for this race. Hopefully, he’ll run well. But, we still need racing luck. I hope when we turn for home, he’s there.... Jimmy said he went over the track really well today. He’s running against some nice horses, but everybody at Win Star and the China Horse Club are excited about him.”
Royal Mo, a stablemate of Gormley trained by John Shirreffs, ships in for his first start since winning the Robert B Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4. Like American Anthem, he is likely to be forwardly-placed in the Rebel after dictating fractions from the rail in the Lewis
Most recently both horses faced stiff competition that, in their most recent races, disappointed. Gormley ran fourth, far up the track from Mastery, in the San Felipe Stakes last Saturday. Irap, who dueled outside of Royal Mo in the Lewis, finished second as the favorite in the Mine That Bird Stakes. That said, the winner was 6-5 second choice Conquest Mo Money.
“He shipped in great,” Sheriffs said today. “He ate good. The cold doesn’t bother him. Horses like it.”
Asked if there is any comparison between Royal Mo and Shirreffs' 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, the trainer said pretty much not.
“Giacomo was a little different story,” Sheriffs said. “He was a closer. He always came from way out of it. He kept improving, but he didn’t win any of these preps, so we went into the Kentucky Derby a big longshot. These two colts (Royal Mo and Gormley) are a little more forwardly placed in their races, so they’ve found some success earlier.”
This is Shirreffs' first trip to Oaklawn Park since the Zenyatta era, and he said he's glad to be back.
“I’ve been waiting to get back to Oaklawn for so long,” Sheriffs said. “My experience here with Zenyatta was off the charts great. It was fabulous. Oaklawn just has a special place in the racing community. You feel like part of the community here. When we drove in with Zenyatta we saw all these signs for her. Everyone was so supportive. It felt like a big family.”
The third California-based shipper is Sonneteer, a relatively unknown eight-race maiden trained by Keith Desormeaux. His efforts so far have not been totally in vain. Sonneteer has hit the board five times, and he finished fourth in the California Derby at Golden Gate.
Malagacy arrived early this week from Florida for Todd Pletcher. Like American Anthem, he is only a two-race veteran, but unlike American Anthem, he hasn't raced two turns. Malagacy was a geared-down, seven-length winner in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park last time out.
“The ship was good, the horses all showed up here nice and healthy, and they absolutely love this weather,” said Pletcher assistant Adele Bellinger, who doubles as the exercise rider. “They are happy and they were all perked up out on the track today. Yesterday we just went straight off to let them see their surroundings without having too much time to think about stuff. Today, we got them out there to train as well as well as possible. They all had a regular gallop of 1 1/4 mile and backed up a few furlongs. We are just trying to keep them from being too happy out there.
“Malagacy is a surprisingly nice horse and it’s nice to have those,” Bellinger said. “He’s always done everything right, but that first race (winning gate-to-wire by 15 lengths) was a ‘Wow’ race. He hasn’t gone that far yet, but he hasn’t showed any desire to slow down. I think this will be a very telling race. We’re excited about him.”
Another out-of-towner comes from Fair Grounds, but he's been at Oaklawn Park for a couple of weeks preparing for the Rebel. Untrapped, trained by Steve Asmussen, ran second in both the LeComte Stakes and the Risen Star Stakes. The latter race came only three weeks before the Rebel, and Untrapped has put in one workout since arriving at Oaklawn Park. There is a jockey change with Irad Ortiz, Jr. booked to ride, replacing Ricardo Santana, Jr.
One Liner ran very fast to win the Southwest Stakes, and he is absent from this field, but second-place finisher Petrov is back for trainer and part owner Ron Moquett. Petrov was always prominent in both the Smarty Jones Stakes and the Southwest and figures to be prominent again on Saturday. He will try to extend his stamina a bit further in the Rebel, which is the same distance as the Southwest, 1 1/16 mile.
Lookin at Lee, also from the Asmussen barn, will retain the services of Santana. The colt was third in the Southwest, and Asmussen hopes he will continue to develop as time passes. He said after the Southwest that Lookin at Lee was right where he expected him to be at that time of year.
Lookin At Lee breezed four furlongs in 50 flat today under regular exercise rider Adolpho Garcia.
“He went nice and easy, looked good and remains right on track,” said assistant trainer Darren Fleming. “He's doing well.”
Silver Dust finished fourth in the Southwest, beaten a dozen lengths. It was his first race of the year and first at two turns. Connections of the Randy Morse trainee hope for a fast early pace for a closing Silver Dust.
Uncontested was the post time favorite in the Southwest, but after setting the pace he faded to finish sixth for trainer Wayne Catalano. Initially, connections we're going to wait for the Arkansas Derby. However, based on recent bullet workouts, the decision was made to go ahead in the Rebel.
“Uncontested is a speedball,” Baffert said. “That’s good drew the 2. I think the break is important, but I’ll let Mike do what he wants to do. My horse is pretty quick, too, and he’s fast. He’s got natural speed. I’m glad that Uncontested is inside of us. That gives us some options, but you never know what Mike is going to do because he just plays it by the race.”
Wayne Lukas has recent maiden winner Silver Bullion. Lukas recently said everyone has grandiose ideas about their 3-year-olds at this time of year, and he wants to see where Silver Bullion fits.
Appalachian Gem, an outsider trained by the iconic Jack Van Berg, rounds out the field. He broke his maiden going two turns at Oaklawn on Feb. 20 in his third career start. Van Bert is still weighing his options.
“Thinking about it,” Van Berg said. “I’m taking a long look or a long shot.”
1 SILVER BULLION (L) 115, Ramon Vazquez, Calumet Farm
2 UNCONTESTED (L) 122, Channing Hill, Robert V. LaPenta, Robert V. and Harry T. Rosenblum
3 SONNETEER (L) 115, Richard Eramia, Calumet Farm
4 PETROV (L) 115, Jose Ortiz, Rialto Racing Stables, LLC, Southern Springs Stables. Sol Kumin, Ron Moquett
5 UNTRAPPED (L) 115, Irad Ortiz, Jr., M. Langford
6 MALAGACY (L) 115, Javier Castellano, Sumaya U.S. Stable
7 AMERICAN ANTHEM (L) 115 Mike Smith, WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club International Ltd., et al.
8 SILVER DUST (L) 115, Corey Lanerie, Tom Durant
9 APPALACHIAN GEM (L) 115, Gary Stevens, Mark DeDomenico LLC
10 ROYAL MO (L) 122, Victor Espinoza, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome S. Moss
11 LOOKIN AT LEE (L) 117 Ricardo Santana, Jr., L and N Racing