HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Owner Rick Porter had won the opener on Saturday’s Rebel Day card at Oaklawn Park, while trainer Bob Baffert was zero-for-two with odds-on favorites — namely Dessman and Improbable — heading into the second division of Saturday’s $750,000 Rebel (G2). It proved to be a prescient trend as Porter’s Omaha Beach prevailed in a head-bob over reigning champion juvenile colt Game Winner in a thrilling finish to the 1 1/16-mile race contested before a crowd estimated at 45,500.
Omaha Beach broke cleanly while Game Winner bumped slightly with a rival leaving the gate. Three wide into the first turn, Omaha Beach dueled with longshot Market King down the backstretch and seized control from that rival around the far turn. Meanwhile, Game Winner made a four wide bid for the lead around the far turn and reached second by the quarter pole.
Under confident handling by Mike Smith while Game Winner was under a drive by Joel Rosario in upper stretch, Omaha Beach looked to be going best, but in the final sixteenth Game Winner found his best stride and ran the eventual winner to a short nose in a tight finish. The final time was 1:42.42, virtually equal to the 1:42.49 turned in by Long Range Toddy in the first division of the Rebel two races earlier.
Omaha Beach paid $10.80. He earned 37.5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for the win, while Game Winner added 15 points to bring his total to 45. Finishing 8 1/4 lengths back in third was Market King, who earned 7.5 points, while Gunmetal Gray earned 3.5 points for fourth, bringing his total to 21.5 points.
This was the second consecutive win for Omaha Beach, who had lost his first four starts as the betting favorite, three of which were on turf. Twice on the wrong side of photo finishes on turf, he then missed by a half-length in is dirt debut, but snapped the streak on February 2 at Santa Anita when skipping to a nine-length win in the slop going seven furlongs. His record now stands at 6-2-3-1, $821,800.
“Coming out of a maiden race, it’s a big step up,” Mandella said. “Game Winner ran really good. He’ll probably be tough next time, but mine just broke his maiden. He might be tougher, too. We always thought he was a really good horse. Being a War Front, I thought maybe he was going to want turf. But I was wrong with that. He wants dirt.”
Bred in Kentucky by the Charming Syndicate, Omaha Beach is a half-brother to 2014 champion juvenile filly Take Charge Brandi. Both were reared by the Seeking the Gold mare Charming.
Omaha Beach’s second dam is multiple Grade 1 Take Charge Lady, who reared 2013 champion three-year-old and Rebel winner Will Take Charge, and Florida Derby (G1) winner Take Charge Indy. Will Take Charge was owned by Willis Horton, who captured Saturday’s first Rebel division with Long Range Toddy, a son of Take Charge Indy.
Oaklawn reported all-sources handle of more than $16.2 million on the blockbuster Saturday card, easily besting previous Rebel Day records.