Baffert Looks to Add to Rebel Success

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Baffert Looks to Add to Rebel Success

Perhaps no trainer in Oaklawn’s 117-year history has had a tighter hold on a high-end race than Bob Baffert. That race, of course, is the Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

The Southern California-based Baffert has been represented by 13 horses in the Rebel – at least one starter every year since his first in 2010 – and has won the race a record seven times, finished second three times and third once, bankrolling a whopping $3,171,000 in purses.

“The reason I’ve been so successful is I’ve brought some serious horses up there,” Baffert said Tuesday afternoon. “I usually try to bring my best horses there.”

The Hall of Fame trainer bids for an eighth Rebel victory when he sends out unbeaten Concert Tour (2 for 2) and recent maiden graduate Hozier in Saturday’s $1 million race. Both horses arrived at Oaklawn at 11:30 am Wednesday after a Tex Sutton flight from California. The Rebel is Oaklawn’s third of four Kentucky Derby points races.

Baffert has won the Rebel with Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old males Lookin At Lucky (2010) and American Pharoah (2015) and was runner-up, beaten a nose, in the second division in 2019 with another champion juvenile male, Game Winner. Baffert won the race in 2012 with future Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Secret Circle. A future Eclipse Award-winning older dirt male, Improbable, finished second in the first division in 2019. Baffert’s other Rebel winners, The Factor (2011), Hoppertunity (2014), Cupid (2016) and Nadal (2020), all went on to capture Grade 1 events.

Lookin At Lucky used the Rebel as a springboard to a Preakness victory and another Eclipse Award (champion 3-year-old male) in 2010. American Pharoah raised the bar five years later, sweeping the Triple Crown and being named Horse of the Year.

Clearly, the Rebel has become a race Baffert circles each year in mapping out the best route to reach Churchill Downs, and beyond.

“It’s an easy ship,” Baffert said. “It’s a real easy ship. The flight’s a couple of hours and it’s a nice track. I like the surface there. I like Oaklawn. I wish I could go myself, but somebody’s got to stay here all the time. I just think it’s a good gauge because there’s always nice horses up there.”

Baffert’s most accomplished 2021 entrant is Concert Tour, who will be making his two-turn debut in the Rebel. Concert Tour’s resume is virtually identical to Nadal (then 2 for 2) before the 2020 Rebel.

Concert Tour broke his maiden Jan. 15 at Santa Anita and won the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) Feb. 6 at Santa Anita. Nadal, in 2020, broke his maiden Jan. 19 at Santa Anita and won the San Vicente (G2) Feb. 9 before his successful two-turn debut in the Rebel (G2) March 14.

“The timing’s right for this horse, Concert Tour,” Baffert said. “He’s sort of on the same path as Nadal. It’s all about timing. This race happened to come up perfect timing for him. So, we’ll stretch him out. We’re getting close now. I just want to see a good effort out of him, see how he’s going to ship, how he’s going to handle the ship, then shipping to run against some really nice horses. This is where they start to see if you’re fit or not on the road to the Derby.”

A son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Concert Tour is a homebred for Gary and Mary West. The Wests have campaigned, among others, Rockamundo, who sprang a monumental upset in the 1993 Arkansas Derby, and Game Winner. They also have another leading Kentucky Derby candidate, unbeaten homebred Life Is Good, with Baffert.

Hozier is by Baffert’s 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up, Pioneerof the Nile, out of multiple graded stakes winner Merry Meadow. Purchased for $625,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale, Hozier finished fourth, beaten 14 lengths by Concert Tour, in his Jan. 15 career debut before breaking his maiden at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 15 at Santa Anita.

“I would have preferred an allowance race for him, but we just couldn’t get them to fill out here,” Baffert said. “It’s tough. So, I thought, ‘Well, he’s doing good and maybe like Spielberg he’ll get a little piece of it or something.’ If things go crazy on the front end, you never know.”

Spielberg, also trained by Baffert, finished second to champion Essential Quality in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 27 at Oaklawn. The Southwest, originally scheduled to be run Feb. 15 before being postponed twice because of harsh winter weather, was Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race.

The Rebel will offer 85 points (50-20-10-5, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 runners. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby a record-tying six times, including last year’s rescheduled version (COVID-19) with eventual Horse of the Year Authentic and in 2018 with Justify, who would also capture the Triple Crown.

“I’m really fortunate with the clientele I have,” Baffert said. “I think American Pharoah really opened the doors for me. I really started getting really nice horses. Before, I just had to go out and buy my own. Now, I’m getting good horses sent to me. My best horses are the homebreds, and they were bred by Gary and Mary West, Life Is Good and this horse.”

The projected eight-horse Rebel field from the rail out: Caddo River, Florent Geroux to ride, 122 pounds; Big Lake, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117; Hozier, Martin Garcia, 117; Get Her Number, Javier Castellano, 119; Twilight Blue, Brian Hernandez Jr., 119; Keepmeinmind, David Cohen, 119; Concert Tour, Joel Rosario, 117; and Super Stock, Joe Talamo, 117.

The Rebel is among five stakes races to be run Saturday at Oaklawn, the others being the $150,000 Temperence Hill for older horses at 1 ½ miles, $200,000 Hot Springs for older sprinters, $350,000 Azeri (G2) for older females at 1 1/16 miles and the $500,000 Essex Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.

Whitmore, the country’s champion male sprinter of 2020, will be making his seasonal debut in the Hot Springs. The gelding has won the 6-furlong Hot Springs a record four consecutive years. The Azeri will mark the 2021 debut of Shedaresthedevil, last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner and a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly.

Racing begins Saturday at noon (Central), with probable post time for the Rebel, the 11th of 12 races, 5:16 p.m. The infield will be open, weather permitting.

The Rebel is the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 10. Nadal won the second division of last year’s Arkansas Derby and retired unbeaten in four career starts.