Breaking Down the Rebel Stakes

February 20, 2024

Rebel contender Timberlake ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

By Laura Pugh

The Road to the Kentucky Derby turns back towards the Hot Springs in Arkansas this Saturday with the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park taking center stage. Unfortunately, the race was dealt a hefty blow to its star power with the loss of multiple grade one winner Muth. However, that bodes well for the 13 remaining entries, as they will have an increased chance to win the top prize of 50 points towards a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. 

  • Carbone: The front-running son of Mitole looks to rebound from his poor effort in the Southwest Stakes. Previously, Carbone reeled off two dominant victories in a maiden and allowance. His first try against stake caliber also represented his first time running over an off track, and his first time not getting to the lead. Any of those things, or a combination of them could explain his disappointing 7th place finish. With a rail position, and a dry course, I think he runs a much improved race. 
  • Northern Flame: Northern Flame took three attempts to break his maiden, then another four attempts to win his second race. His last win came over a track rated as Good (sealed) and still looked like it carried quite a bit of moisture. His closing split of :13.69 was far from inspiring. He might try to spar for the lead early on, but overall, the son of Flameaway looks outmatched in this spot.
  • Common Defense: Based on pedigree, I’m shocked that this one isn’t running on the turf. Owned and bred by new blood just getting into the game makes me want to root for this colt, but he just seems out of place here. Pedigree says turf, and given his figures over the dirt, you’d think that would be something to try, but maybe the connections are looking for that big win to give them a boost in status, with the best way to do that being to get their homebred to the Kentucky Derby. Otherwise, the Rebel doesn’t make a lot of sense for Common Defense.
  • Tejon Pass: The son of Justify struggled in California before taking his game to Oaklawn, and has unfortunately struggled to find success there as well. Looks to be several cuts below the best…in this field. 
  • Magic Grant: Claim to fame is a win in the Clevor Trevor Listed Stakes at Remington Park. Other than that, the son of Good Magic doesn’t have a lot going in his favor. Well below the best here going by the figures, even on his best day.
  • Dimatic: The son of Gun Runner took three tries to break his maiden. The first time out, he had quite a troubled trip. The second time he just seemed outmatched. Was third time the charm of him putting everything together, or did he just take to the sloppy course better than the rest? Horses do improve this time of year, so it’s plausible that is what is going on, but he’ll have to show me over the dry track that he’s likely to see on Saturday. 
  • Timberlake: The Brad Cox trainee is the proven class of the Rebel field. Making his first start since fading to a disappointing fourth in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, the Champagne Stakes winner looks for redemption and to show that he’s made the leap in form from juvenile to three-year-old. Thankfully for him, the competition seems light. He’s always been a bit hard to handle in the early stages of a race, and that could be seen again given this is his first start since November, however, his figures simply tower over the rest of this field. If he runs his race, the Rebel is his to lose.
  • Next Level: Another in this field that looks to be more filler than true cream. We’ve seen Keith Desormeaux pull longshot wins out of his hat before, so who knows. This one just seems highly unlikely given the lack of success already experienced in graded company.
  • Lagynos: After starting his career on the green, Lagynos has experienced mixed success on dirt with a third-place finish in his first attempt, followed by a victory in an off-the-turf allowance at Churchill Downs. His first attempt at stakes competition on the main track didn’t go so well, with him fading to a well-beaten sixth. He did exhibit a change in tactics that day, in the Smarty Jones, so it’s possible that the connections are looking to see if he improves with a return to more of a stalking style. He looks to be the wild card of the Rebel.
  • Mena: The son of Hard Spun ran his fastest race to date when narrowly beaten by Northern Flame in his last start. However, I feel as though that is more due to enjoying the off-track rather than improvement with age or distance. He’s won on dry tracks in the past, but his figures were markedly lower. 
  • Just Steel: The D. Wayne Lukas trainee was slow to get started in his career, but his numbers have been gradually improving with each start, as of late, and to this writer, he’s giving off Will Take Charge vibes. His best number put him in the running for this race, and if he makes another incremental move forward, it might just be enough to get him a win. 
  • Woodcourt: The term unfocused would be putting it mildly when looking at his nine-start career. He’s tried every surface, and now, after finally finding some success, his connections have decided to see if their modestly bred enigma can raise his game in the Rebel. To be fair, Woodcourt comes into this race off two straight victories, with one of them coming at this track.
  • Time for Truth: Ron Moquett isn’t known for tossing his hat in the ring for kicks and giggles, so this one’s entry merits a look. This will only mark Time for Truth’s third career start, and his first attempt ever beyond six furlongs. He’ll want to be on the lead, and normally I’d say has the speed to get it, but his far outside post will make that task daunting. 

Selections: Just Steel, Carbone, Time for Truth, Timberlake

Race Summary: The 2024 running of the Rebel Stakes came up disappointingly light on class and talent. Only a few of the 13 runners look like they belong in the field. The pace looks fast on paper, outside of Carbone and Time for Truth, I don’t see the others being fast enough to make a true play for the front, which could lead to a slower pace than what is expected. Timberlake is the class, and should sit a good trip, but if he can’t run the way he did in the Breeders’ Cup and expect to win. The two that catch my eye for this spot are Just Steel and Time for Truth. If the latter can relax and ration his speed, I think he is good enough to be in the mix at the wire. Just Steel has been knocking on the door, and I feel like he is the most likely to improve enough to stage a mild upset.

Contributing Authors

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that...

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