HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Beat Bob Baffert.
That's been the story of the Rebel the last two years, and the Oaklawn Park Grade 2 reads much the same on Saturday. Baffert has favored Secret Circle in the Rebel, which he won last year with The Factor and in 2010 with Lookin At Lucky.
The 1 1/16-mile Rebel, boosted to $500,000 this year after being worth $300,000, is a prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 14. It's also one of two stakes on the card, with the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri a springboard to the meet's other Grade 1, the $500,000 Apple Blossom on April 13. The Rebel card traditionally has been the second-highest attended of the meet behind Arkansas Derby Day, with a crowd last year of 34,698. Officials said the infield would be opened Saturday, depending on the weather, and as of Thursday forecasters were calling for isolated thunderstorms and a high of 80 degrees.
Secret Circle, who has been the favorite in all five of his starts, is again the one to beat. He has won four times, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint and the second and faster division of the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest last month at Oaklawn. Scatman, who finished a half-length behind Secret Circle in the Southwest, is back for a rematch Saturday, and the Rebel field of 13 also includes Sabercat, who will be making his first start since winning the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot in November.
Secret Circle tracked Scatman into the stretch of the Southwest, then bellied down to get past his determined rival in the one-mile race that ended at the sixteenth pole. He covered the distance in 1:37, and for the effort earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102. The number is the best career Beyer in the field Saturday and tied for third-highest by a 3-year-old in North America this year.
"He bounced out of his race really well," said Baffert, who trains Secret Circle for the partnership of Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman. "I think he's kind of a horse that's just starting to wake up a little bit. He's done everything on just natural talent. He's kind of the kid who's real smart, didn't do his homework, just gets through on natural talent."
The Rebel will be Secret Circle's first start beyond a mile.
Baffert said he is hopeful Secret Circle will get the distance, based on a strong six-furlong work the horse turned in March 10, going in 1:11.60 at his Santa Anita base. Baffert said he has also been impressed with Secret Circle's continued tenacity under racing conditions.
"He keeps winning and running faster and faster," he said.
Rafael Bejarano has the mount.
Scatman ran the race of his life when he was second in the Southwest on Feb. 20, leading through six furlongs in 1:11.20 and then reaching down for more when engaged by Secret Circle. He has since had two controlled, five-furlong breezes at Oaklawn.
"He's doing very good, and I think he can move forward," said trainer Mike Lauer. "He's stepped up physically. He's just stepped forward, and the race didn't really knock him out. I think he's moved forward off the race."
Scatman is one of many in the race moving past a mile for the first time.
"I think he'll get the mile and a sixteenth, it's just whether someone else gets it faster," Lauer said. "But he's very easy to deal with, very easy to rate."
Luis Quinonez will ride Scatman, one of nine horses coming out of the twin divisions of the Southwest.
Sabercat had been targeting the San Felipe at his Santa Anita base, but the decision was made to push his 3-year-old debut back a week. It allowed for a six-furlong move in 1:12.60 on March 4.
"There's more to him than there was last fall, physically, and I just thought we would benefit from one more stiffer work," said trainer Steve Asmussen.
Sabercat is riding a three-race win streak into the Rebel. He overcame adversity to win the Jackpot in his last start Nov. 19, closing from last for a four-length win. It was a departure from the stalking style he used to capture the $75,000 Garden State at Monmouth Park in October.
"In the Jackpot he kind of came together with another horse, was away in a bit of a tangle, and at Delta they were showing pace and it ended up putting him farther back," Asmussen said. "And he did get stopped pretty good around the turn, and then picked it up again."
Corey Nakatani has the mount.
Cyber Secret, an allowance route winner this meet with a Beyer of 96, will be looking to recapture that form after moving up strongly on the final turn before fading to fifth in Secret Circle's Southwest.
"He made a steady advance into a fast pace and those horses, they were duking it out at the three-eighths pole," said trainer Lynn Whiting. "I think we should have went ahead and sat behind those horses, not gone out and joined them and tried to outrun them from the middle of the racetrack.
"As a result, we were empty at the quarter pole, and that's when the real running started. I think tactically we got in a position in the teeth of the race, when the race was really strong, and I think we fired all our bullets. I think we played their game instead of ours."
Robby Albarado will ride Cyber Secret for the first time Saturday.
TVG will be onsite Rebel Day. The race goes as the 10th of 11, with a post of 5:48 p.m. Central.