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2011 REBEL STAKES PREVIEW (Updated 3x)

(UPDATE #3: It's not official - Elite Alex will scratch from the Rebel (via DRF.com) and will go in next Saturday's Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds.)

(UPDATE #2: Glint is now officially a scratch and is possible for the Sunland Derby next weekend. (via DRF.com))

(UPDATE #1: Dreaminofthewin has scratched.  Glint is rumored to be a scratch, as well.  There are also rumblings that Elite Alex may scratch and go to the Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby.(via @Steve_Byk on Twitter))

Saturday's Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park will take place at a distance of a mile and a sixteenth on the main track and feature of a purse of $300,000 (with $180,000 to the winner).  The Rebel is the tenth race on Saturday's card with a scheduled post time of 5:56 Central Time.  Below is a rundown of the field:

1-Archarcharch (8/1): I think a big part of handicapping the Rebel Stakes is predicated on how highly you rate the Southwest Stakes.  If you thought that was a good, solid race, then horses like Archarcharch, J P's Gusto, and Elite Alex make a lot of sense in this spot.  If you thought the Southwest was on the weak side, then it's tough to get behind any of the horses coming out of that race, even the winner.  I'm not sure where I fall on that spectrum; Archarcharch ran credibly, stalked the pace nicely, and came up with enough of a late kick to put away a field gasping for air in the stretch.  Will that be enough in the Rebel?  I honestly don't know. 

2-Alternation (12/1): I made mention of this the other day, but I'm not sold on the noise surrounding Alternation.  Yes, that win on the Southwest undercard was nice, but he faced nothing that day.  Half the field has come back to run in claiming events at the 25k or 30k level.  Two races back he was all out to defeat Elite Alex in a race that saw the runner-up almost fall over his own legs coming out of the gate.  I'll need to see a little more before I jump in with both feet.

3-Dreaminofthewin (SCRATCH)

4-Picko's Pride (20/1): Another colt coming out of the Southwest Stakes, where he closed from almost 20 lengths back to finish a decent fourth.  That closing move is a bit deceiving as his final split was 25.89; not a bad fractions but certainly not a split that indicates a huge finishing move.  It was, however, the fastest finishing split of the field, which makes you wonder what was coming home that day.  Below are the rest of the final fractions for the Southwest field by the order of finish:

1-Archarcharch: 26.07
2-J P's Gusto: 25.99
3-Elite Alex: 26.18
4-Picko's Pride: 25.89
5-Yankee Passion: 26.50
6-Caleb's Posse: 26.83
7-Grant Jack: 27.39
8-Derivative: 26.55
9-Brickyard Fast: 27.91
10-Ghost Is Clear: 26.91
11-Bonaroo: 27.00

Not a whole lot to get excited about but, to be fair, the early pace was hot - at least in the opening quarter (22.60). 

I don't know what to do with the Southwest: either the race was sub-par or the track was dull and tiring.  Or perhaps it's a combination of the two. 

5-J P's Gusto (5/1): This colt appears to love Oaklawn Park, as he's put up some nice morning works since coming out to Arkansas from California this spring.  He ran a good 2nd to Archarcharch in the Southwest and was one of only two horses to come home in under 26 seconds (by a hair).  The work tab has been pretty light since his last race and it will be interesting to see how much energy he show out of the gate.  With much of the crowd likely focusing on The Factor and Sway Away, J P's Gusto could be a bit of a sleeper pick.

6-The Factor (2/1): So far, he's shown only one way to run: all-out, all-the-time.  We can debate whether that would work at 10 furlongs in the Derby, but that style may be a big advantage in a race that is almost devoid of quality early speed.  If he's going to win at two turns, this is certainly the type of race where he could pull it off.  Perhaps the prime question with this colt is, "will he take to the Oaklawn main track the way he did at Santa Anita?"  There are some good closers in this field; if The Factor gets at all leg-weary in the final furlongs due to a slower, tiring surface, he could have a lot of work to do to hold on.

7-Caleb's Posse (20/1): Another Southwest horse, and one that came up with a pretty big clunker of a race that day.  He looked good winning the Smarty Jones two races back (what you could see of it through the fog) and he was 3rd in the G3-Arlington-Washington Futurity last September, so he's got some ability to run quality races.   This field, however, looks pretty deep, and he'll likely need to uncork a career best in order to win.

8-Saratoga Red (30/1): This colt seems quite a bit over his head in this spot after he was all out to win his debut against Maiden Special Weights back on February 24th.  Additionally, he appears to prefer running up front, where he'll have to battle the pure, unadulterated speed of the The Factor.  That's not a recipe for success.

9-Sway Away (5/2): One of the more intriguing colts in this field, Sway Away will attempt two turns for the first time in the Rebel.  He was second by ¾ of a length to The Factor in the San Vicente, and he was a ½ length back of J P's Gusto in the Best Pal last August.  Is he just a closing sprinter, or can he make that same big move when going a route of ground? 

Sway Away is by Afleet Alex out of a Seattle Slew mare (Seattle Shimmer); the top-half of the pedigree has all kinds of stamina while his dam and siblings spent their time sprinting.  Afleet Alex won races from 6 furlongs to a mile and a half, suggesting that Sway Away may just love going two-turns.

10-Elite Alex (8/1): It's hard not to call his Southwest Stakes disappointing when you consider he was in perfect position to make a winning move as the field moved onto the far turn, only to flatten out over the final furlongs.  I'm not sure Borel gave him the best trip that day; he was wide into the first turn and six-wide into the stretch.  Two races back he took a nasty step leaving the starting gate so perhaps he's not the easiest horse to handle on the track.  That being said, if he's able to take a step forward in this race he should have a chance at the end.  I've got mixed feeling on this guy.

11-Glint (20/1): Other than Saratoga Red, Glint looks like the only other colt with the ability to challenge The Factor on the frontend.  I'm not sure he's good enough to do that and have anything left in the tank for the stretch drive. Reports indicate that Glint is going to scratch out of the Rebel.

12-Bluegrass Jam (30/1): This colt made a nice late move to just miss against OC/N1X company last time out at the Fair Grounds.  The second race of his career was a N1X event at Churchill Downs where he finished 7th, beaten 12 ½ lengths to Brethren and Justin Phillip.  I'm not sure he's a stakes quality colt at this point.

13-J W Blue (30/1): Not really sure what to make of this Sky Mesa colt; he won an N1X over Bluegrass Jam in his last race (1/29 @OP) but you've got to wonder about a race where the winner closes from over eight lengths back to win but only runs a final 3/16th of 33.31.  I'm not so sure he was running fast or the rest of the field was toast in the stretch.  The horses finishing behind him that day have come back to do little to nothing in their next races; last place Unbridled Sheriff is the only next-out winner after he scored at Remington Park in a one-mile, N2L on the lawn.  

The Pick

Looks like this one could get a bit chalky tomorrow.  With little to no early speed to speak of in the Rebel, The Factor is in a perfect position to score a big win in his first try at two turns.  If he comes up a bit weary in deep stretch, Sway Away has all the tolls to make a big run in the lane.  

It would probably benefit Sway Away to get a bit closer to the pace in the Rebel than he was in the San Vicente.  Oaklawn doesn't have a long stretch drive and I'm not sure he'll have the time to make up significant ground if he doesn't get rolling until midway on the turn.  The key to this race, in my opinion, is to maintain a position close enough to The Factor early on without getting caught up in what will probably be a very quick pace.  The Factor may just run everyone into the ground, but if he's hits the wall at some point, the horse that's able to keep touch through the first six furlongs might have an excellent shot to run him down.  We'll see if that's the strategy for Gomez and Sway Away.

If I can get him for 3/1 (doubtful), I'll land on Sway Away for the win.