'We live in the 1 hole'
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is number one in Rebel Stakes victories, and he's number one in the gate for Saturday's race with Nadal.
Post positions for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel were drawn early Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Nadal and another Rebel entrant, American Theorem, arrived following a flight from Southern California.
“I just heard I got the 1 hole,” Baffert said moments after the draw. “At least it’s consistent. We live in the 1 hole.”
Improbable, Baffert’s last starter in a major Kentucky Derby prep race at Oaklawn, finished second in the Arkansas Derby last April after breaking from the rail. Nadal, who has two wins from two starts, will try to go one better and remain unbeaten in his two-turn debut and first start outside California. Nadal, in his stakes debut, won the $200,000 San Vicente on Feb. 9 at Santa Anita.
“He shipped really well,” Baffert said. “Just need a break now and find out if he handles two turns. Hopefully, he’ll keep the party going.”
The eight-horse Rebel field from the rail out: Nadal, Joel Rosario to ride, 117 pounds; Excession, Tyler Baze, 117; Basin, Javier Castellano, 117; Silver Prospector, Ricardo Santana Jr., 122; No Parole, Joe Talamo, 122; Three Technique, Luis Saez, 117; Coach Bahe, Santo Sajur, 117; and American Theorem, Tiago Pereira, 117.
Three Technique hasn’t started since a runner-up finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 24, Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races.
American Theorem hasn’t started since finishing second in the American Pharoah Stakes on Sept. 27 at Santa Anita.
Basin will be making his first start since winning the Hopeful Stakes on Sept. 2 at Saratoga.
No Parole is unbeaten and untested in three career starts against Louisiana-bred competition.
Silver Prospector exits a one-length victory in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 17.
Steve Asmussen, also in the Hall of Fame, has three entrants -- Excession, Basin and Silver Prospector.
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 on April 11.
Baffert is seeking his seventh Rebel victory after taking the race in 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.
Probable post time for the Rebel, the 10th of 11 races, is 6:23 p.m. ET. Racing begins at 12:35 p.m. local time.
Lightly raced Basin will make his long-awaited 3-year-old and two-turn debut. After he won the Hopeful, a minor lower leg injury sidelined the colt for the remainder of the year.
“Held my breath for a while now,” co-owner Ryne Poncik said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re not there yet, but hopefully we’ll get there.”
Basin was to have made his two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity, Poncik said, before he was found to be a “little off” in his right hind (just above the pastern) in late September. A physical examination revealed a “little spot on his P1 fetlock” and bone was subsequently “shaved off,” Poncik said. Basin returned to the work tab in mid-January.
“Steve really, really took his time,” said Poncik. “I’ll tell you the truth, about four weeks ago, three weeks ago, I didn’t know if we were going to make a Derby prep because he was taking his time and pretty much letting Basin tell us when he was ready.”
Poncik said Basin signaled his readiness with a 5-furlong bullet workout in 59.20 on Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds, where the colt was based before shipping to Oaklawn earlier this month. Basin worked a half-mile in :51.80 Monday morning.
Among the horses that won the Rebel in their 3-year-old debuts are Sunny’s Halo (1983), Victory Gallop (1998), Lookin At Lucky (2010) and American Pharoah (2015). Sunny’s Halo won the Kentucky Derby. Victory Gallop won the Belmont Stakes and was the country’s champion older male in 1999. Lookin At Lucky won the Preakness and was an Eclipse Award winner at 2 and 3. American Pharoah swept the Triple Crown en route to Horse of the Year honors.
Basin’s layoff – almost 6 1/2 months – is longer than any of those four horses. All had two-turn experience, also.
“It’s the layoff and the two turns,” Poncik said. “Say he ran in the Futurity and a had a layoff, I would probably feel a little better, but it’s up in the air right now what to think. Just happy to be at another race.”
Poncik is a Houston oil and gas businessman. He said Basin, purchased for $150,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, is named for the Permian Basin, a rich oil- and gas-producing region of west Texas. His father-in-law Terry Green, a co-owner and Mississippi casino magnate, is in a contentious fight for a casino license in Pope County, Arkansas, about 70 miles north of Hot Springs.
Their Jackpot Farm ran sixth in the 2018 Rebel with the Asmussen-trained Zing Zang.