Triple Crown: Rebel Stakes picks and analysis

This Saturday, the 1 1/16 mile Grade 2 Rebel Stakes is up for grabs with 50 Derby points to the winner of the Oaklawn Park fixture. 

Thirteen three-year-olds are slated to enter, aiming at the $1,250,000 purse and a spot to continue at Oaklawn in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby next month. Even with a 6/5 morning line favorite in Brad Cox’s Timberlake, this edition of the Rebel fields plenty with legitimate chances to find themselves in the winner’s circle. 

The usual training suspects will participate here, with three Asmussen entries and two Kenny McPeek runners, several of whom enter as unfamiliar longshots. Perhaps one of those will fly under the radar and emerge in their pursuit of a Triple Crown bid, or an even bigger outsider will tackle the favorite and find themselves in prime position to reach the starting gate at Churchill in May. 

Winners of the Rebel Stakes have not been as successful in Kentucky as of late, but with a resume that boasts Triple Crown victor American Pharoah in 2015, as well as back-to-back horse of the year Curlin from 2007, there have been some top-flight horses to start their three-year-old journey in this spot. 

Likely favorite Timberlake looks to give Brad Cox his first Rebel victory after a tough fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November at Santa Anita. He entered that try with high expectations off of a Grade 1 victory in the Champagne in October, but was never close enough to be truly involved in the stretch. 

Timberlake recently breezed five furlongs at Fair Grounds in a minute and one fifth, with the tuneup drawing strong reviews from Cox, who told Twinspires “I was very impressed with the move… It was a big league move, and look, he’s a big league horse. I think the Rebel is going to be a good race, he’s coming off a freshening, so we wanted to put some air in him and I felt like he got a good blow out of it and I think he’s set up for a big run.” 

Timberlake has shown a stalking running style through five career starts and will need to stay close enough to the lead here in a larger field with a few longshots who will show early speed. 

Steve Asmussen’s 20/1 Lagynos and his 15/1 Carbone are two that should add to the pace here, along with Ron Moquett’s 15/1 Time for Truth, who breaks from the outside 13 post. While these three aren’t likely winners at this distance, their role in the early stages here could determine the success of Timberlake, who may be pace-dependent. 

The inside-breaking Carbone, while not Asmussen’s top entry, does have two gate-to-wire wins in three starts, including one over this track, and he was the beaten favorite last out in the Grade 3 Southwest. Perhaps the only other entry with a more impressive two-turn victory at Oaklawn breaks directly outside of Carbone as the third choice on the morning line for McPeek in Northern Flame. At 5/1 and coming off a win where he controlled the pace, Northern Flame still needs to show some improvement and sit on slow fractions to truly be a factor here, as his races off the leaders have not fared well. 

The 7/2 second choice in this field, Just Steel breaks from the 11 post for D. Wayne Lukas after back-to-back places in stakes tries. He certainly had some nice performances as a two-year-old, but this colt by Justify-Irish Lights (AUS), by Fastnet Rock (AUS) will need to show a bit more ability going past a mile to be able to hang on here, with all of his top races going one turn. A distant second in the Grade 3 Southwest earlier this month at Oaklawn already leaves him with 10 Derby points, but a backwards trend in his stretch runs leaves him with little margin for error in the early goings here. 

“He’s still carrying a little weight,” Lukas told Oaklawn publicity of Just Steel following the Southwest. “He’s a big, powerful horse and I think with racing, he’ll drop some of that weight and he’ll be a little bit better at finishing. I look forward to the next one. That one should be starting to get us where we want to be. I think he needs racing.”

An under-the-radar winner of two straight, 20/1 Woodcourt appears to have taken a slight step forward going into his three year old season but still lacks the class of some others here, as does Steve Hobby’s Mena, who carries 15/1 morning line odds. A continued trend forward for either of these runners might be enough to factor them in to finish in the top four, but anything past that would only occur in the scenario of a major pace collapse. 

Another improving three-year-old who is impossible to ignore, if only because of the connections, is Winchell Thoroughbred’s Dimatic, who recently broke his maiden for Steve Asmussen over a sloppy Oaklawn track. At 8/1, Dimatic will likely be Asmussen’s shortest-price runner, but Joel Rosario will not return to take the mount, instead leaving the task to Tyler Gaffalione. By Gun Runner-Time to Tap, by Tapit, this three-year-old has shown steady improvement in three maiden tries that could put him on pace to be a challenger for Timberlake here with the right pace set up.  

In a 13-horse field, the presumptive favorite Timberlake certainly is no shoo-in, as jockey Christian Torres will need to ensure he doesn’t fall too far from the lead to have winning chances here. Still, with a group that has lacked stakes success and appears to be a cut below him in class and speed figures, the 12 “others” have their work cut out for them as they look to prevent Brad Cox from nabbing his first Rebel victory and gaining a leg up in his pursuit of this year’s Kentucky Derby. 

The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes is the eleventh race on Oaklawn’s Saturday card and has a post time of 6:23 PM EST. 


1. #7 Timberlake (6-5)

2. #6 Dimatic (8-1)

3. #1 Carbone (15-1) 

4. #10 Mena (15-1)