(Game Winner gallops over the Oaklawn Park track on Thursday / Coady Photography & Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)
From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:
Unbeaten champion Game Winner (#1 in “The Pressbox’s KY Derby Rankings”) got his first feel of the Oaklawn racing surface Thursday morning, galloping after the renovation break in advance of his scheduled 3-year-old debut in the second division of Saturday’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles.
Game Winner (4 for 4) and unbeaten stablemate Improbable (3 for 3) arrived Wednesday morning following a flight that originated earlier in the day in Southern California. Improbable galloped before the renovation break Thursday morning. Both horses are under the care of Hall of Fame 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 was installed the 4-5 program favorite for the second division (10 entrants). Improbable is the 3-5 program favorite for the Rebel’s first division (nine entrants). Game Winner 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 the $500,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) March 9 at Santa Anita. They were re-routed to Arkansas after Santa Anita announced March 5 it was suspending racing indefinitely because of poor weather and track conditions. Splitting the Rebel helped horsemen affected by the San Felipe’s ultimate cancellation.
“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.”
The split means the Rebel, originally a $1 million race, will be worth $1.5 million overall, with each division offering $750,000 and 63.75 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby to the top four finishers (37.5, 15, 7.5 and 3.75).
Baffert has won the Rebel a record six times – 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 at 2. 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 (G1) April 13.
(Gunmetal Gray before the Breeders’ Cup last November at Churchill Downs / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has 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 $250,000 Fantasy (G2) for 3-year-old fillies in 1991, Hystericalady in the $175,000 Azeri (G3) for older fillies and mares in 2008, Blind Luck in the $300,000 Fantasy (G2) in 2010 and It Tiz Well in the $200,000 Honeybee (G3) for 3-year-old fillies in 2017.
Hollendorfer can pad that total in Saturday’s split $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds with Galilean (first division) and Gunmetal Gray (second division).
“They’re coming in good shape and doing good on their training,” Hollendorfer said Wednesday afternoon. “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, who both arrived late Wednesday morning following a two-hour, 40-minute flight originating earlier in the day in Southern California.
Galilean, a California-bred son of champion Uncle Mo, has won 3 of 4 career starts, including the $200,000 California Cup Derby by 4 ½ lengths Feb. 18 at Santa Anita. A $600,000 2-year-old purchase by West Point Thoroughbreds, Galilean won the $100,000 Barretts Juvenile Stakes 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.”
The California Cup was 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the Rebel.
Gunmetal Gray, also co-owned by West Point, was a one-length winner of the $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) Jan. 5 at Santa Anita. Runner-up Sueno returned to finish a strong second in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) 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.”
Reddam Racing LLC’s Irap – in his eighth career start – broke his maiden in the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds in 2017 at Keeneland for Southern California-based trainer Doug O’Neill.
Reddam Racing (J. Paul and Zillah Reddam) and O’Neill will try to weave their magic again when seven-race maiden Parsimony makes his stakes debut in the second division of the $750,000 Rebel (G2) for 3-year-olds Saturday.
A $400,000 OBS March 2-year-old purchase, Parsimony has four runner-up finishes in maiden special weights 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 Wednesday afternoon. “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 $500,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) last Saturday at Santa Anita before racing there was suspended indefinitely. The Rebel became an option, O’Neill said, when Oaklawn officials announced they were receptive to splitting the 1 1/16-mile race to accommodate Southern California horsemen impacted by the ultimate cancellation of 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.
The track was rated good for workouts Thursday morning. … She Beast, a 4-year-old half-sister to Grade 1 winner The Big Beast, went 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 Thursday morning for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. … Cowboy Diplomacy, champion Monomoy Girl’s 3-year-old full brother, is entered in Saturday’s third race, a maiden special weights event at 1 1/16 miles. Cowboy Diplomacy finished second in his Feb. 8 career debut. The winner (Captain Von Trapp), third-place finisher (Cabot) and fifth-place finisher (Royal Daaher) all returned to win at the meet. … Oaklawn passed the halfway point of the scheduled 57-day season.