The field for Saturday’s $1 million Rebel (G2) gives a sense of déjà vu, with the top five from the Southwest (G3) reuniting over the same 1 1/16-mile circuit at Oaklawn Park. But the result might not be the same in the scoring race that offers Kentucky Derby (G1) points on the 50-20-10-5 format.
Here are my points to ponder:
1. Newgrange looked vulnerable for most of the Southwest.
Although Newgrange justified 3-2 favoritism, the Bob Baffert shipper made his backers sweat it out. The son of Violence chased the pace out wide, spinning his wheels and not getting a hold of the track, according to jockey John Velazquez.
There are two ways to read his workmanlike victory. Finding a way to win outside of your comfort zone is the mark of a very good horse, and Newgrange is 3-for-3. At the same time, it’s also a sign of likely vulnerability on his return visit. The race shape could be trickier too. Now drawn toward the inside in post 2, Newgrange is liable to hook up with the rail-drawn Kavod early.
2. His returning rivals have a license to improve.
Dash Attack regressed to a tame fifth in the Southwest, some way below his Smarty Jones S. score on New Year’s Day. Trainer Ken McPeek chalked it up to lack of fitness, thanks to the challenges of winter weather interrupting his training regimen. Dash Attack has posted back-to-back five-eighths bullets for the Rebel, so we could see him at his best. If it’s premature to typecast the Munnings colt as a mudlark, he won’t mind if the forecast rain hits in the afternoon.
Barber Road has rolled a bit too late when second in both the Smarty Jones and Southwest. Trainer John Ortiz told Daily Racing Form that he’s looking for a more tactical dimension. The Race Day colt had taken up a closer stalking position in his prior starts, and that would make his job less daunting in the stretch.
Ben Diesel finally drew in the middle for the Rebel, after being on either extreme in Oaklawn’s first two preps. Post 13 in the Smarty Jones forced his hand early, and he paid for it by tiring to seventh. The Dallas Stewart pupil landed on the rail in the Southwest, resulting in a better third, but he lost his focus eyeing the infield in the stretch. His Rebel draw (post 7) is the golden mean that could make all the difference for the full brother to Will’s Secret.
3. Chasing Time, Ethereal Road test their class after big wins.
A son of Not This Time uses his speed to jump onto the Derby trail for Steve Asmussen. That description fits Risen Star (G2) romper Epicenter, but it applies to Chasing Time as well. The Churchill Downs maiden winner looked like a different animal when stretching out to a mile allowance at Oaklawn. Chasing Time deserves extra credit for handling an unusual midrace development. Initially setting the pace, he was passed by an aggressive rival on the backstretch. Chasing Time adapted by steering off the fence, taking up an outside stalking spot, and drawing off by a resounding 7 3/4 lengths. If the tempo figures to be more demanding here, he’s clearly on the upgrade.
Ethereal Road faces a steeper task coming off a maiden win, but it was some win. The D. Wayne Lukas pupil ambled out of the gate and found himself a long-way last. Then commenced a visually impressive march through, and ultimately past, the entire field. Ethereal Road’s improbable rally was enabled by the relative slowness of his rivals, and he won’t have the luxury of scything through others fading after six furlongs in 1:14.09. Still, the Quality Road colt stamped himself as one to watch.