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Mar 23, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Secret Circle a sprinter no longer

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The main concern for trainers and owners with hopes of competing in the Kentucky Derby is whether their 3-year-old can handle the 1 1/4 miles of the Run for the Roses. As 2-year-olds and in the races leading to the first Saturday in May, the 10-furlong distance is a new endeavor.

This past Saturday saw the development of the top 2-year-old sprinter of 2011 into a horse that can handle a distance of ground. Secret Circle, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint last year, hit the wire first in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

"He got the mile-sixteenth and showed he could rate a bit," said Jim Barnes, assistant to Secret Circle's trainer Bob Baffert. "I'll be getting my room for the Arkansas Derby tomorrow."

Secret Circle proved in the Rebel his ability to come from off the pace and go after horses in front of him. The colt not only caught the front-runners, but also got past them.

"He was really ready today," winning jockey Rafael Bejarano noted after the race. "The key was getting him to relax. He has lots of talent."

The victory gave Secret Circle's Hall of Fame trainer his third straight win in the Rebel following The Factor and Lookin At Lucky. The Factor is now one of the best sprinters in training and Lookin At Lucky won the 2010 Preakness Stakes and was voted that year's champion 3-year-old.

Baffert now expects even bigger things from Secret Circle with the $1 million Arkansas Derby coming up on April 14.

"The win was exciting and the way he did it was promising," Baffert said on Sunday morning. "It was a good schooling for him and I think he should get a lot out of it, although my guys tell me he was hardly blowing when he got back. He's run well there (Oaklawn Park) and likes that track. If everything is good over the next few weeks, we will definitely come back.

"He keeps shutting it down too early. He kind of pulls himself up and throws out an anchor. I thought he was just going to blow by (pacesetter Scatman), but he waited a little bit. We can fix that with competition and try and work that out of him."

The Rebel was the second consecutive win at Oaklawn for Secret Circle. The colt with Bejarano won a division of the Southwest Stakes last month, giving Baffert a clean sweep of the split stakes.

The first division of the Southwest went to Baffert's Castaway a less experienced horse than his stablemate. This Sunday, the colt, who will be ridden by Bejarano, will probably be the favorite in the $800,000 Sunland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico.

Although Secret Circle won a Breeders' Cup event and was a finalist for an Eclipse Award, he apparently doesn't come across as an impressive looking horse - just a winning one.

"He's an unassuming horse when you watch him train, but he always shows up on the big days," Baffert said. "Secret Circle doesn't dazzle you when he trains in the mornings and he doesn't dazzle you in his races, but he's a good horse. He's improving. He came out of the Rebel well."

It doesn't really matter if a horse dazzles when training or when racing as long as the horse wins and keeps advancing. Secret Circle has shown he continues to progress.

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