From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:
With Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas initially in tow, Nadal galloped approximately 1 1/8 miles in his first appearance over the Oaklawn surface after arriving early Wednesday afternoon for Saturday’s $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds.
Nadal, who is named for tennis great Rafael Nadal, was taken to the track by Lukas, a longtime friend of the unbeaten colt’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Nadal and another Rebel entrant, American Theorem, are stabled in Lukas’ barn (Royal Glint) after being flown to Arkansas from their Southern California base. Lukas also escorted American Theorem to the track to train Thursday morning for trainer George Papaprodromou.
“Wayne was tickled to death,” Baffert’s traveling assistant, Jimmy Barnes, said after Nadal galloped. “He really enjoys it when we come into town. It gives him a chance to visit and he helped out. He and Bob are such good friends. His hospitality here is great. Just makes it a lot easier to have a barn to ship into to.”
Nadal was installed the 5-2 program favorite for the Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile race that will mark the two-turn debut for the unbeaten son of champion Blame. A $700,000 2-year-old purchase, Nadal (2 for 2) broke his maiden by 3 ¾ lengths Jan. 19 and won the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) by three-quarters of a length Feb. 9. Both races, 6 ½ furlongs and 7 furlongs, respectively, were at Santa Anita.
“Nadal, he looks beautiful right now,” Barnes said. “He’s coming into this race so well. He’s had two starts now – first time stretching out – and it looks to me like he will stretch out. He went over the track beautiful this morning. One more day of training and we’ll find out.”
Nadal trained Thursday morning after the first surface renovation break under Yoni Hernandez, an exercise rider for Lukas. Perhaps Nadal’s biggest fan – outside his inner circle – is Lukas, a two-time Rebel winner who had considered starting a horse in Saturday’s race.
“Boy, that’s a big, impressive-looking horse,” Lukas said after escorting Nadal back to the barn. “I can buy those kind all day long. He’s really an impressive horse. He checks all the boxes, as they say. I was contemplating maybe running one in the Rebel. Training him this morning, I’m glad I didn’t do it. Glad I’m staying in the barn. No need to be rubbing elbows with that one.”
The Rebel will offer 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby and is the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11.
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). American Pharoah, who went on to sweep the Triple Crown, is the sire of American Theorem.
The eight-horse Rebel field from the rail out: Nadal, Joel Rosario to ride, 117 pounds, 5-2 on the morning line; Excession, Tyler Baze, 117, 30-1; Basin, Javier Castellano, 117, 3-1; Silver Prospector, Ricardo Santana Jr., 122, 7-2; No Parole, Joe Talamo, 122, 8-1; Three Technique, Luis Saez, 117, 7-2; Coach Bahe, Santo Sajur, 117, 30-1; and American Theorem, Tiago Pereira, 117, 6-1.
Nadal will remove blinkers after wearing the equipment in his first two starts.
Probable post time for the Rebel, the 10th of 11 races, is 5:23 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:35 p.m.
Saturday’s program also features the $350,000 Essex Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles and the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
Wendell Fong will be considered for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses April 11, trainer Jeremiah Englehart said Thursday morning. Wendell Fong, in his 4-year-old debut, ran third behind Whitmore in last Saturday’s $150,000 Hot Springs Stakes. “Right now, we’re kind of weighing all of our options,” Englehart said. “Obviously, you’ve just got to tip your cap to Whitmore. He’s going to probably be back in the Count Fleet. I was actually really happy the way he came out of the race. He galloped this morning and seemed like he was on the bit and healthy, which is always a good sign. It’s definitely a possibility.” Whitmore has won the Hot Springs the last four years and captured the Count Fleet in 2017 and 2018. … Wicked Whisper “probably” will run in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies April 10, owner Alex Lieblong said in a text message Wednesday night. Wicked Whisper was being pointed for last Saturday’s $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) before spiking a fever last month, Lieblong said, and missing scheduled works. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Wicked Whisper won the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1) Oct. 6 at Belmont Park before being beaten for the first time in her last start, the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. The Honeybee was the final major local prep for the Fantasy. Wicked Whisper has trained this winter at Fair Grounds. … Thursday’s eighth race, an entry-level allowance for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, could produce a starter, or starters, for the Fantasy. Unbeaten Back in Charge (1 for 1) was scratched from the Honeybee Stakes in favor of the allowance spot. Trainer Kenny McPeek said Back in Charge, a daughter of champion and multiple stakes winner Will Take Charge, was entered in the Honeybee in case the allowance race didn’t fill.