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Mar 23, 2012



               There was one prep race over the weekend of March 17th and 18th. It came on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th at Oaklawn Park in the form of the Rebel Stakes. A Grade II race run over 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $500,000. This was the second of the three major preps at Oaklawn Park, the first was the Southwest on February 20th, then the Rebel on March 17th and concluding with the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 14th.

               The Southwest was run in two divisions with both going to Bob Baffert trainees, CASTAWAY who won the slower division and the second division going to SECRET CIRCLE. SECRET CIRCLE was back for the Rebel and went off as the even money favorite in a 12 horse field. As the gates opened, UNBRIDLED’S NOTE, who had the rail post was sent right to the lead through fractions of 23:2, 47 flat, while being tracked by SCATMAN, the Southwest runner-up to SECRET CIRCLE. As they passed the half, SCATMAN took over the lead with longshot CYBER SECRET and the favorite SECRET CIRCLE in pursuit. As they headed into the lane SCATMAN was clear into the stretch with SECRET CIRCLE taking dead aim.

               As they got to late stretch, SECRET CIRLCE ground down SCATMAN, who probably doesn’t want to go that far and tired late to finish third. OPTIMIZER, who was coming off a poor effort in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds flew home on his wrong lead to finish a fast closing second at 27-1. He goes out for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas who knows how to win a Triple Crown race.

               The second choice in the race was SABERCAT, who was making his first start as a three year old and his first start since November coming off a big win in the Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs, he was far back early on and could only manage an 8th place finish late. He has plenty of money in graded earnings based on that win at Delta Downs and looked like he was in need of this race. He is one that should improve off that effort for the Steve Asmussen barn and he is certainly bred to get the distance.

               The most interesting horse that I saw in this race finished 6th, his name was NAJJAAR. This three year old colt by Belmont Stakes winner, JAZIL, was riding a two race winning streak heading into the race, both of those wins coming over Oaklawn Park. He broke his maiden back on January 14th as the odds-on choice getting up late to score by a neck. He was given almost two months off by his trainer Daniel Peitz, came back in a NW1X allowance race on March 2nd against older horses, he was outrun early on in that race, came six wide into the lane and rolled on by for a length win. Two weeks later he was in the Rebel Stakes, after breaking near the back of the pack he trailed the field of 12 throughout, he was at one point close to 20 lengths behind the leaders. As they moved to the top of the lane he was still far back with jockey Calvin Borel and he angled out to make his move. He did close well through the lane passing half the field in a much better than looked 6th place finish. Bred to go the Derby distance and beyond, the extra 1/16th of a mile in the Arkansas Derby can only help and he is a major contender in that race and possibly the Kentucky Derby going forward.

               With little more than six weeks to go to the Run for the Roses the Derby picture outside of UNION RAGS is still kind of cloudy. HANSEN beat a suspect field in the Gotham and still have to prove he can do it against better and at the longer distances. EL PADRINO, a Todd Pletcher is a major player but he still has another prep on the horizon. CREATIVE CAUSE and BODEMEISTER both look like contenders from out west and the Santa Anita Derby will go a long way to showing who is best out of the west. SECRET CIRCLE, the winner of the first two Derby preps at Oaklawn definitely has plenty of talent but he is still a question as they go further considering he is not breaking stopwatches in his races.

Next week we will take a look at the Vinery Spiral at Turfway and the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park as the Road to the Derby continues.

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