All eyes will be on Oaklawn Park this Saturday as a competitive field of 14 gets set to tackle the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. The $900,000 race, won by Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah last year, offers 50 points to the winner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Also on Oaklawn's 11-race card are the Grade 2 Azeri for older fillies and mares featuring Untapable, and the Grade 3 Razorback for older males, which includes the return of Upstart.
The Rebel will feature Southwest Stakes winner Suddenbreakingnews, who has once again drawn a very wide post position. The second and third place finishers in the Southwest, Whitmore and American Dubai, will also contest the Rebel, as will four other Southwest contenders. Newcomers to the Oaklawn oval include East Coast shipper Cherry Wine, who was most impressive in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream Park, and missed the Fountain of Youth with a slight fever. The West Coast shippers include G1 Hopeful winner Ralis and recent maiden winner Cupid.
In other graded stakes action this weekend, Gulfstream Park will host the Grade 2 Inside Information, a sprint for older fillies and mares featuring Stonetastic's return to graded company. At Santa Anita, Saturday includes the Grade 1 Santa Margarita for older fillies and mares, featuring Taris as she attempts to complete the Grade 1 victory that has eluded her thus far.
On Sunday, the replacement stakes for the Sunland Derby and Oaks will be held at Sunland Park, with several trainers electing to ship in sophomore colts for the $415,000 purse offered in the Festival of Racing Stakes. Doug O'Neill sent multiple stakes winner Found Money, Bob Baffert sends G3 Sham Stakes winner Collected, and Todd Pletcher sends the talented Gettysburg. Also on Sunday, Santa Anita will host the Grade 3 Las Flores Stakes, a sprint for older fillies and mares.
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Let's check out this week's competition and good luck with your wagers.
Xpressbet.com Handicapper: Dustin Fabian, Xpressbet.com
Azeri Stakes, Grade 2, Oaklawn Park, 1 1/16 Miles
After a historical 2014 campaign in which she went 6-for-7 and earned $2.8 million, #7 UNTAPABLE took a bit of a step backward in 2015, winning just once while finishing second four times. She was upset at odds of 1-to-10 in this race last year and while she looks formidable on paper, she has been off since October and could be vulnerable at a very low price. I'm going to use her underneath two others in an Exacta and try to get a longer-priced horse home first.
The Play: $20 Exacta #1 Call Pat, #6 Sarah Sis / #7 Untapable ($40 wagered)
Razorback Handicap, Grade 3, Oaklawn Park, 1 1/16 Miles
There aren't any worldbeaters in this field, so I'm hoping #4 SHOTGUN KOWBOY runs big. Last year's Oklahoma Derby winner is 6-for-10 in his career and should do much better than his 5th place finish last out in a sprint stakes race at the Fair Grounds. He makes his second start for Bret Calhoun and his second start off the layoff – both positive angles – and should benefit from a favorable pace setup. If #7 UPSTART isn't ready to fire fresh (and I'm not sure he is), this is the horse I want on my ticket.
The Play: $10 Win #4 Shotgun Kowboy; $2 Trifecta Key #4 Shotgun Kowboy / #3 Carve, #6 Far Right, #7 Upstart, #8 Domain's Rap ($34 Wagered)
Rebel Stakes, Grade 2, Oaklawn Park, 1 1/16 Miles
When I handicap races, I love to follow stats and trends to help me make my picks. Which jockey is on fire lately? Which sire does a great job with first-time turf starters? Which trainer is having a great meet? And in the case of the Rebel, all roads lead to Bob Baffert. He has won five of the last six editions of the race, and while his representative this year, #4 CUPID, doesn't have the credentials that past Baffert-trained winners like American Pharoah, Lookin at Lucky and Secret Circle boasted, he comes from the right barn and has the right amount of tactical speed to entice me. I think he'll get a jump on the best two closers, #10 WHITMORE, #11 CHERRY WINE and #12 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, all of whom had the misfortune of drawing outside.
The Play: $26 Win #4 Cupid ($26 Wagered)
Paulick Report Handicapper: Chelsea Hackbarth, Asst. News Editor
On paper, #7 UNTAPABLE looks tough to beat in this field. However, she came up a bit short in this same race last year off a similar layoff, and several of the other contenders have been at the top of their game lately. #1 CALL PAT enters off of a win over the Oaklawn surface for hot trainer Brad Cox, and #4 STREAMLINE put forth a gutsy effort to finish second in that same race. It looks unlikely that #6 SARAH SIS will get a favorable pace scenario, so I'll leave her out this time.
The Play: $15 Exacta #1 Call Pat, #4 Streamline / #7 Untapable ($30 Wagered)
The likely favorites #7 FAR RIGHT and #8 UPSTART have done little to prove that they are back to their old selves, so I'll take a look at longer prices in this field. Trainer Otabek Umarov has done impressive things with #1A LA MACCHINA since he claimed the 4-year-old from Mike Maker for $30,000, including winner the Essex Handicap over the same distance as this race last time out. #4 SHOTGUN KOWBOY has never run at Oaklawn and hasn't been in the best form of late, but horses that have run well at Remington have been firing in Arkansas this winter.
The Play: $20 Win #1a La Macchina, #4 Shotgun Kowboy ($40 Wagered)
This race is kind of a toss-up, but the 14-horse field will be a great preparation for any sophomores looking to face 19 others on Kentucky Derby Day. #11 CHERRY WINE may have drawn near the outside, but if he is completely over the illness that kept him out of the Fountain of Youth, the Dale Romans trainee may have a shot to run big in this field. Bob Baffert's #4 CUPID drew well and is an imposing, well-balanced individual, and Baffert has recently been the king of the Arkansas oval Derby preps, but the colt will need to break sharper here to avoid trouble. I'm still not sure what to think of #12 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS' performance in the Southwest, as it was visually impressive, but most of the front-running horses were clearly tiring.
The Play: $15 Win #11 Cherry Wine, #4 Cupid ($30 Wagered)
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