Baffert, Hollendorfer Seek to Extend Oaklawn Success
With the Rebel Stakes two days away, the contigent of California invaders that arrived yesterday were on track Thursday morning for the first time.
Game Winner, the 2-year-old champion of 2018, galloped after the renovation break, and Improbable galloped before the break. Both horses are under the care of trainer Bob Baffert’s top assistant, Jimmy Barnes.
“I’d say we galloped just a little over a mile, probably a mile,” Barnes said. “We just went straight on, once around, and pulled up. Very good. Looked awesome on the track. Couldn’t be happier. They went over the surface very nice. Usually our ship-ins, our first day, that’s what we do. We just take it easy. Just let them get a look of things.”
Game Winner the unbeaten Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, was installed the 4-5 program favorite for the second division of the Rebel, which has 10 entries. The son of Candy Ride is owned by Gary and Mary West, who won the 1993 Arkansas Derby with 108-1 shot Rockamundo.
Improbable is the 3-5 program favorite for the Rebel’s nine-horse first division. Improbable, unbeaten in three starts, hasn’t raced since Dec. 8 when he won the Los Alamitos Futurity. He's owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing, who were part of Triple Crown winner Justify's team last year.
Both horses were scheduled to make their 3-year-old debuts in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9 at Santa Anita. They were re-routed to Arkansas after Santa Anita canceled the San Felipe and other races following numerous catastrophic breakdowns on the track, closure of the track, an in-house investigation of the main track racing surface and the implementation of new safety measures.
“It’s tough in California right now,” Barnes said. “Hopefully, they’ll get things worked out. This time, it ended up working better for us because we were going to run both in the San Felipe, so this way they run apart. Thank God for Oaklawn. They had enough horses and enough money to split the race. They came through for us. That was awesome.”
Meanwhile, another fatality occurred at Santa Anita this morning during training when the filly Princess Lili B broke down during a workout and was euthanized.
Baffert has won the Rebel a record six times. He took the race in 2010 (Lookin At Lucky), 2011 (The Factor), 2012 (Secret Circle), 2014 (Hoppertunity), 2015 (American Pharoah) and 2016 (Cupid). Like Game Winner, Lookin At Lucky and American Pharoah were also Eclipse Award winners as juveniles. American Pharoah won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before sweeping the Triple Crown en route to Horse of the Year honors.
The Rebel is the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 13, three weeks before the Kentucky Derby.
Hollendorfer No Stranger to Oaklawn Either
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has also enjoyed great success at Oaklawn, compiling a 6-5-3 record from 26 starters and purse earnings of $1,142,221.
Four of the victories have come in graded stakes company – Lite Light in the Fantasy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies in 1991, Hystericalady in the Azeri Stakes for older fillies and mares in 2008, Blind Luck in the Fantasy in 2010 and It Tiz Well in the Honeybee for 3-year-old fillies in 2017.
Hollendorfer seeks to pad that total in with Galilean (first division) and Gunmetal Gray (second division) of the Rebel.
“They’re coming in good shape and doing good on their training,” Hollendorfer said yesterday. “We’re looking forward to running. We haven’t been out to Arkansas in a while, but we’re glad to be here.”
Flavien Prat is scheduled to ride Galilean and Gunmetal Gray.
Galilean, a California-bred son of champion Uncle Mo, has won three of four career starts, including the restricted California Cup Derby by 4 1/2 lengths on Feb. 18 at Santa Anita. A $600,000 2-year-old purchase by West Point Thoroughbreds, Galilean won the Barretts Juvenile Stakes on Sept. 22 at Los Alamitos in his career debut.
“He’s a very good prospect for us going on,” Hollendorfer said. “We particularly like the last race that he had. We thought that he ran a very good race.”
Gunmetal Gray, also co-owned by West Point, was a one-length winner of the Sham Stakes on Jan. 5 at Santa Anita. Runner-up Sueno returned to finish a strong second in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18, Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race.
“I haven’t looked at the race and won’t for a day or so,” Hollendorfer said of the Rebel. “I’ll try to figure out where all the speed is and talk with my rider and see if we can make a basic plan to run the race and see if it works out.”
O'Neill Taking A Shot
Reddam Racing and Doug O’Neill are giving seven-race maiden Parsimony a shot in the Rebel. They teamed when the then-maiden and now-deceased Irap won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
A $400,000 OBS March 2-year-old purchase, Parsimony has four runner-up finishes in maiden special weight competition on the West Coast, facing top-shelf competition like Gunmetal Gray and Roadster.
“It’s one of those situations that he felt and acted like a special colt,” O’Neill said. “Obviously, Paul and Zillah wrote a serious check when we bought him because we thought he was this kind of horse. He’s a special horse and we thought we’d give him a chance here. We know he’s going to be an outsider, but we’re excited to see how it goes.”
O’Neill said Parsimony, a gray son of Dominus, had been under consideration for the San Felipe.
“The split helped us here, because we wouldn’t have got in, obviously, if they didn’t split,” O’Neill said. “We thought long and hard about the expense of getting him there. He worked tremendous the other day at San Luis Rey Downs, and we thought we would roll the dice.”
Parsimony will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez, who guided I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist (2016) to Kentucky Derby victories for O’Neill and Reddam. Parsimony adds blinkers for the Rebel.