Like most people, trainers can be creatures of habit. Once they find a particular path to success, you can count on them to follow it time and time again.
On the road to the Triple Crown, perhaps the best example of that phenomenon can be found in the Rebel Stakes.
Scheduled to be run on Saturday at Oaklawn Park, the Rebel has become a prized possession of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The steppingstone prep for Oaklawn’s Arkansas Derby, the Rebel has proven to be fertile ground for Baffert to ship in and then head home with a bundle of cash and points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Over the course of the last eight runnings of the Rebel, Baffert has won the Grade 2 stakes no less than six times. He won it three straight times from 2010-12, then had his streak interrupted by fellow Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Will Take Charge. After that, he won the Rebel from 2014-16 before future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher and Malagacy ended Baffert’s hat trick as the Californian’s American Anthem finished 10th last year as an 8-5 favorite.
On Saturday, Baffert will once again be represented in the Rebel with connections that should be well known to even casual followers of the sport.
In 2015, Baffert won the Rebel with American Pharoah, who went on to become one of the sport’s immortals by winning the first Triple Crown in 37 years for owner Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables.
On Saturday, Baffert and Zayat Stables are expected to send out Solomini in the Rebel, who will have more than déjà vu on his side. Like American Pharoah, Solomini will be making his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel. While Solomini may not be a 2-year-old champion like American Pharoah, he finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and rates as one of the top contenders for the Kentucky Derby.
He also has Baffert on his side.
Other than the Baffert factor, the Rebel has featured two diverse patterns over the last 10 years. In the last four runnings of the stakes, the winners last raced out of town. Two of them shipped in from Santa Anita Park and the other two raced at Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds.
Prior to that, four of the six winners from 2008-13 exited a race at Oaklawn Park, giving them the benefit of a race over the track. Three of those Oaklawn horses were last seen in the Southwest Stakes at the Hot Springs racetrack before winning the Rebel.
Like most Derby preps, Rebel winners are generally coming off a sharp race. Seven of the last 10 winners won their previous start and another was second.
In terms of the wagering, the betting favorite won four of the last 10 editions and three were the second choice.
Of course, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of longshot pulling off a shocker. Will Take Charge went off at 28-1 when he won the 2013 Rebel and in the 2009 edition it was 56-1 shot Win Willy who posted a stunning victory.
Just don’t expect to find a horse trained by Bob Baffert at those odds. Four of his winners paid 6-5 or less, and given his dominance in the stakes, a price like that sounds like a bargain.
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