Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won the Rebel Stakes a record six times, all since 2010. Baffert will have a chance to add to that total with unbeaten champion Game Winner and unbeaten Improbable ticketed for Saturday’s $1 million Grade 2 race at Oaklawn, the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 13.
Baffert gave both horses the green light for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel after workouts Sunday morning at Los Alamitos in suburban Los Angeles. Improbable covered 5 furlongs in :59.40. Game Winner went the same distance in :59.80.
“We’re coming,” Baffert said. “They worked well. Everything’s good. There’s no changing between now and then.”
Game Winner (4 for 4) clinched an Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male in his last start, the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs. The son of Candy Ride is owned by Gary and Mary West, who won the 1993 Arkansas Derby with 108-1 shot Rockamundo. Improbable (3 for 3) hasn’t started since the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) Dec. 8 at Los Alamitos.
Both horses were scheduled to make their 3-year-old debuts in Saturday’s $500,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. They are being re-routed to Arkansas after Santa Anita announced last Tuesday it was suspending racing indefinitely because of poor weather and track conditions.
To accommodate Southern California horsemen impacted by the move, Oaklawn President Louis Cella announced Wednesday the track was prepared to split the Rebel, which is scheduled to offer 85 points (50-20-10-5) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.
If the Rebel is split, each division will carry a purse of $750,000 and each division will offer 63.75 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. Oaklawn officials said Sunday morning that they were confident the Rebel would be split.
“We knew the Rebel was always there, but at first we were thinking not to ship,” Baffert said. “We could come back. We hate to ship twice. It changes things a little bit, but right now we’re going through a little crisis here in Southern California. We never dreamed the day would come they would close down Santa Anita, but we’re getting through it. The main thing is that the 3-year-olds, they worked well. They’re coming up there. I think it’s very nice of them to want to split that race. That’s the key thing.”
Baffert also won the Rebel in 2010 (Lookin At Lucky), 2011 (The Factor), 2012 (Secret Circle), 2014 (Hoppertunity), 2015 (American Pharoah) and 2016 (Cupid). Lookin At Lucky and American Pharoah were also Eclipse Award winners at 2. American Pharoah won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before sweeping the Triple Crown en route to Horse of the Year honors.
Game Winner and Improbable are to be flown Wednesday to Arkansas. The flight is also scheduled to carry several other horses for the Rebel, including Extra Hope and Omaha Beach for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, Galilean and Gunmetal Gray for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Easy Shot for trainer Keith Desormeaux.
Hall of Fame trainer and nine-time Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen has several Rebel probables, including Springboard Mile winner Long Range Toddy for owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark.
Long Range Toddy ran in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby points races, finishing second in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 25 and third in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 18. Long Range Toddy worked a half-mile over a fast track in :53 Sunday morning under Jon Court.
The Rebel, $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares and $350,000 Essex Handicap for older horses will highlight a blockbuster Saturday program.
Shamrock Rose, winner of the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, completed major preparations for the Azeri with a half-mile workout just after the track opened Sunday morning under David Cohen. Breezing in darkness, Shamrock Rose went in :50.40 and galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:04.
“She’s great,” said assistant trainer Allen Hardy, who oversees trainer Mark Casse’s Oaklawn division. “It was just an easy work for her.”
Other probables for the 1 1/16-mile Azeri are Grade 1 winners Elate, Eskimo Kisses and Midnight Bisou and multiple stakes winner Tapa Tapa Tapa.
Post positions for the three races will be drawn Wednesday. Weather permitting, the infield will be open for the first time Saturday.
Whitmore and Chocolate Kisses emerged in good order from Saturday stakes victories, their respective camps said Sunday morning.
Whitmore, Oaklawn’s top older sprinter the last two years, launched his 2019 campaign with a 1 ½-length victory in the $150,000 Hot Springs for older sprinters. Chocolate Kisses recorded her first career victory on dirt in the $200,000 Honeybee (G3) for 3-year-old fillies.
Whitmore joined E J Harley (1998-2000) as the only horses to win the Hot Springs three consecutive years and remained unbeaten in seven career sprint starts at Oaklawn. In addition to the Hot Springs, Whitmore won the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) in 2017 and 2018 and allowance races in 2016 and 2017.
“That’s huge, especially in that division because there’s a lot of good sprinters come through this division,” co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett said.
Whitmore is scheduled to make his next start in the $500,000 Count Fleet (G3) April 13.
Chocolate Kisses is scheduled to ship back to her winter base at Fair Grounds Monday, said assistant trainer Allen Hardy, who oversees trainer Mark Casse’s Oaklawn division.
“She’s doing great, actually,” Hardy said.
Immediately following her one-length Honeybee victory over Motion Emotion, Casse said Chocolate Kisses will probably make her next start in the $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 12, Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Kentucky Oaks. Chocolate Kisses, who was exiting an allowance victory on the turf Jan. 18 at Fair Grounds, earned 50 points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks, the country’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies.
Chocolate Kisses, in her only other graded stakes start, finished fourth in the $400,000 Alcibiades Stakes (G1) on the main track Oct. 5 at Keeneland.
“This fall she worked at Churchill as good as I’ve ever seen any one of our good 2-year-olds work there for us, for a filly,” Casse said. “I had contemplated running her in the Breeders’ Cup.”
A $410,000 yearling purchase, Chocolate Kisses is a half-sister to Synchrony, a multiple graded stakes winner on turf for trainer Michael Stidham. Synchrony ran in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby points races in 2016, finishing third in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and sixth in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.
Chocolate Kisses and Synchrony are out of the Von Hemel-trained Brownie Points, winner of the $50,000 Martha Washington Stakes in 2006 and second to future Horse of the Year Zenyatta in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) in 2008 at Oaklawn.
Chocolate Kisses is owned by Debby Oxley, whose husband, John, campaigned champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire. Casse trained Classic Empire.
Motion Emotion, who led most of the way in the 1 1/16-mile Honeybee, will be pointed for the Fantasy, her trainer, Tom Van Berg, said Sunday morning. The Fantasy is also 1 1/16 miles.
Orlando Mojica had a riding triple Saturday, highlighted by his first Oaklawn stakes victory aboard Chocolate Kisses in the $200,000 Honeybee (G3) for 3-year-old fillies. … Multiple stakes winner Recount worked 5 furlongs in 1:06.60 Sunday morning for trainer Jimmy DiVito. … Jeffrey A. Hawk Memorial Stakes winner Lone Rock worked a half-mile in :48.40 after the break Sunday morning under Alex Canchari. Campaigned by trainer Will VanMeter and owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, Lone Rock finished 12th in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses Feb. 18. Clockers caught Lone Rock galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 and 6 furlongs in 1:14.80. … Through Saturday, the 26th day of the scheduled 57-day meeting, 263 claims had totaled $4,134,500. There were 19 claims Saturday.
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