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Mar 23, 2012

Derby winner will not come from Rebel Stakes

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


(Sports Network) - No one can doubt the ability of Secret Circle, last Saturday's Rebel Stakes winner at Oaklawn Park. The 3-year-old has now picked up five victories in six lifetime starts, including a win in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint last November. But the son of Eddington will have his share of problems once the distances increase to nine and 10 furlongs.

Secret Circle held off the late-closing Optimizer (loser of seven straight races) to win the Rebel by three-quarters of a length as the even-money favorite. His time for the 1 1/16-mile event was 1:44 2/5, less than a second faster than 3-year-old Master Rick's maiden special weight win one race earlier, and almost a second slower than it took the mare Tiz Miz Sue to win the Azeri - her first graded stakes.

Trainer Bob Baffert's charge showed a different dimension in the Rebel, settling almost three lengths off the lead in the fourth spot as the 12 colts headed into the far turn. Once the field hit the stretch, only Scatman was in between Secret Circle and the wire. And in almost similar circumstances as the Southwest Stakes 26 days earlier, he was able to run down his rival inside the final furlong.

Despite the win, all was not golden for Secret Circle since he ran his final five-sixteenths in a pedestrian 32 4/5 seconds. And that includes a 6 4/5 final sixteenth of a mile. In comparison, Master Rick, who broke his maiden in his fifth career start, ran the same distances in 32 3/5 and 6 2/5, while Tiz Miz Sue needed 31 1/5 and 6 2/5 to finish the Azeri.

Furthermore, Secret Circle had trouble keeping a straight path through the stretch, as he veered out badly under repeated left-handed whips from jockey Rafael Bejarano. The horse had drifted out down the lane in the Southwest, but his actions in the Rebel were much more noticeable, signifying a colt that might not want any part of 1 1/8 or 1 1/4 miles.

Secret Circle earned a 92 Beyer Speed figure, down 10 points from his victory in the Southwest. His sheer class and gameness cannot be questioned but those two qualities will not help him as he continues on the Kentucky Derby trail.

As for the rest of the field, there were not many solid performances, particularly because Scatman "walked" home in 33 3/5 seconds after leading the field by a length around the far turn. Optimizer, the second-place finisher, closed well through the stretch, but that was probably due to how slow the other horses were running.

The biggest disappointment was Sabercat. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt showed little zip in the early stages and proceeded to finish eighth, beaten by more than six lengths. He has the earnings to make the Kentucky Derby, but he'll have to show more in his final prep race to earn a spot in the 20-horse field.

GEMOLOGIST RETURNS IN A BLAZE OF GLORY

Unlike Sabercat, Gemologist stamped himself as a major Kentucky Derby contender with a dazzling seven-length triumph in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Sent off as the 7-10 favorite, the son of Tiznow jumped to an early lead and pulled away through the stretch despite a hand ride from Javier Castellano.

The final time for the mile was 1:35 4/5, a clocking that could have easily been faster if Castellano had put Gemologist to the test. Currency Swap, last year's Hopeful Stakes winner, finished second in his 2012 debut.

It would appear Gemologist will duplicate Super Saver's path to the Derby by competing in next month's Arkansas Derby, and based on the result of the Rebel, don't be shocked if he remains unbeaten heading into Churchill Downs.

STREET LIFE RUNS HIS WAY INTO THE WOOD

Chad Brown's Street Life recorded his second consecutive come-from-behind victory while taking the Broad Brush Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday. The son of Street Sense did not look as if he would get past Copy My Swagger after falling behind by almost four lengths at the 1/8th pole.

Nevertheless, Street Life persevered and gutted out a half-length victory. Take nothing away from the March foal, but Copy My Swagger had to be tired stretching out to 1 1/16 miles after six straight six-furlong races. In addition, the gelding had just raced a week earlier in the Fred Capossela Stakes.

Street Life now joins Hansen as probable Wood Memorial starters, with Alpha, My Adonis and Prospective possibly challenging the 2-year-old champion. Bob Baffert is also seriously thinking about sending Liaison to New York since the colt has not benefited from the speed-favoring surface at Santa Anita.

TWO HUGE STAKES ON TAP THIS WEEKEND

Two of the last three Kentucky Derby winners made their final prep in this weekend's top two stakes races. Animal Kingdom took the Spiral last year while Mine That Bird ran fourth in the Sunland Derby back in 2009.

Team Valor and Graham Motion look for back-to-back scores in the 1 1/8-mile Spiral with State of Play, winner of the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes earlier this month. Todd Pletcher also will be represented by the undefeated Heavy Breathing, who makes his stakes debut in Turfway Park's signature race.

Sunday's Sunland Derby should draw the likes of Castaway, Isn't He Clever and Daddy Nose Best. All three were stakes winners last time out.

THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Union Rags - Might be better than Barbaro

2) I'll Have Another - Needs to rate just off speed in Santa Anita Derby

3) El Padrino - Takes on Union Rags in Florida Derby

4) Creative Cause - Grandsons of Storm Cat have not had success winning the Derby

5) Gemologist - Won't be underrated anymore

6) Hansen - Breezed four furlongs in 50 2/5 Sunday morning

7) Alpha - McLaughlin now leaning toward Wood

8) Dullahan - Still has to prove himself on dirt

9) Howe Great - Same goes for son of Hat Trick

10) Bodemeister - Trying to buck 130-year-old Derby trend with zero starts as 2-year-old

11) Lucky Chappy - Team Valor colt getting ready for UAE Derby

12) Heavy Breathing - Looks for first stakes win in Spiral



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