UPDATED: Game Winner, Improbable Arrive In Arkansas; Rebel Stakes Split Into 2 Divisions / Entries Added

As expected, Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert and Oaklawn Park have both delivered upon their promises. And, this Saturday’s “Road to the Kentucky Derby” just may become a super highway, full of busy speedsters trying to make their way to Louisville.

On Wednesday morning, both of Baffert’s undefeated, 3-year-old colts — the 2-year-old Champion Game Winner and the wonderful Improbable — arrived in Arkansas and were being transported to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.

Just a few minutes later, it was confirmed that the G2 Rebel Stakes — to be held at Oaklawn Park on Saturday — will be split into two divisions, both of which will have significant purse allotment, and, just as importantly at this juncture in time, significant points to be garnered for the Kentucky Derby.

In a story published by HorseRacingNation (www.horseracingnation.com), track publicist Jennifer Hoyt confirmed the news. HRN quoted Hoyt as saying, the split was done “out of consideration for the horsemen and the fans.”

Originally, the Rebel was to have a $1 million pure and award Derby qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 level.

Now, the divisions will have a $750,000 purse each, and the races will award 37.5, 15, 7.5, 3.75 points to the top 4 finishers in each race.

The potential for these changes came last week when Santa Anita announced that it was suspending its’ current live race meeting so that it could hire noted trackman Dennis Moore to come to Arcadia and inspect the track surfaces and help develop protocols that could improve the overall safety of the dirt and grass surfaces. Since the meet began on Dec. 26 until racing was suspended last week, 21 horses had suffered and sustained injuries that were catastrophic in nature and required that the individuals be euthanized.

As a result of the cancellation of racing last weekend, Santa Anita also announced that it would not be running the G2 San Felipe Stakes — a major stepping stone to the Santa Anita Derby and a major building block to the Kentucky Derby, as well.

Both Game Winner — a perfect 4-for-4 and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November — and Improbable were both scheduled to run in the San Felipe to begin their respective 2019 campaigns. In addition, a number of other California-based horses — who are hopefuls for this year’s Triple Crown Trail — were also being pointed to that race. With the cancellation, the trainers and owners went scrambling to find other potential races and locations.

Oaklawn Park announced last week that if there was sufficient interest and the connections would consider traveling to Arkansas, the track would consider splitting the Rebel into two events — to accommodate the local horse base, as well as the California horses without a race to go.

As it turns out, there was and is sufficient interest.

And, now, the races will go on.

In addition to Game Winner and Improbable, the invasion is also expected to include Gunmetal Gray, Galilean, Extra Hope, Omaha Beach and Easy Shot.

Already stabled and ready to compete in the Rebel are local horsemen, led by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen — who has indicated that he may have up to 5 horses ready to run in the important prep for the Arkansas Derby and the KY Derby. His top choice may be Long Range Toddy, who just ran third in the G3 Southwest Stakes in Arkansas.

Entries are supposed to be drawn later on Wednesday. We will update as soon as we have more information.

Here Are The Entries:

RACE 10 Rebel S. (Grade II) POST TIME – 6:06 PM

RACE 8 Rebel S. (Grade II) POST TIME 

Oaklawn Park STAKES

Purse $750,000. Three Year Olds. One And One Sixteenth Miles.


The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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