Hall of Fame trainers Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas will each saddle a pair of runners in Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, and one of those four is the likely favorite for the 1 1/16-mile contest.
Super Ninety Nine, one of Baffert's entrants, appears the one to beat off an 11 1/4-length romp on February 18 in the local prep, the Grade 3 Southwest over a sloppy, sealed track.
The chestnut son of Pulpit returned in that spot off an 18-day break following a 3 1/4-length score at Santa Anita in his sophomore debut. He earned a 103 BRIS Speed rating for that Santa Anita optional claimer, and continued in the same fashion with a 101 Speed figure for the Southwest. Jockey Rafael Bejarano was aboard for both starts and retains the mount on Saturday.
Super Ninety Nine's main threat could come from Lukas' Oxbow. That Awesome Again three-year-old broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last November, shipped to California to be fourth in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on December 15, then returned a month later to dominate the Grade 3 LeComte by 11 1/2 lengths at Fair Grounds.
Oxbow stuck around the New Orleans venue to try the Grade 2 Risen Star last out, and had the lead in the stretch before being passed late in the lane. He wound up only a half-length behind the winner in fourth, and will get a jockey switch to Mike Smith for his Oaklawn debut.
Baffert's other Rebel runner, Den's Legacy, boasts just two career victories. One of those came on the synthetic Polytrack at Del Mar and the other when taking the Grade 3 Generous over Hollywood Park's turf. The Medaglia d'Oro colt finished second in his past two on conventional dirt tracks, the Grade 3 Sham and Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis, and will get a rider change to Robby Albarado while competing outside of California for the first time.
Also shipping for the first time are the Todd Pletcher-trained Delhomme and Ron Ellis-conditioned Treasury Bill.
The former, a bay son of Dixie Union, owns just three career starts, breaking his maiden at Belmont Park in October prior to closing out his juvenile season with a close third after leading throughout in the Grade 2 Remsen. Garrett Gomez, who's been aboard Den's Legacy for his past six races, will be in Delhomme's saddle Saturday.
Treasury Bill is also lightly raced with three starts, taking his maiden at Santa Anita in his sophomore bow prior to a rallying second in the Grade 2 San Vicente. The Lemon Drop Kid chestnut will be stretching out past seven furlongs for the first time in the Rebel and brings jockey Joseph Talamo in from California for the ride.
Title Contender will be looking to turn the tables on Carve in the Rebel after being caught by that one in an optional claimer last month. The win gave Carve a perfect two-for-two mark for trainer Steve Asmussen, who's tabbed Corey Nakatani to pilot the First Samurai gelding. Title Contender, on the other hand, has yet to score since breaking his maiden in September. He followed up with an eighth-place run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and an 11th in the CashCall Futurity for Baffert, but has since been switched to the shedrow of Wayne Catalano. The dark bay son of Pulpit will have Luis Quinonez in the irons for the first time Saturday.
Will Take Charge is Lukas' other Rebel hopeful, but was a well-beaten sixth in the Southwest after eking out a neck decision in the Smarty Jones. Behind him on both occasions is the re-opposing Texas Bling, who was next to last in the 10-horse Southwest and second in the Smarty Jones.
Hardrock Eleven, runner-up in a Sam Houston stakes in late January, and Stormy Holiday, fourth in a trio of black-type contests in his past three, round out the Rebel field.
One race prior to the Rebel, My Miss Aurelia heads a field of seven fillies and mares in the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri going 1 1/16 miles. The champion filly suffered her first loss when second in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic and followed that up with a half-length third in the Grade 1 La Brea to close out her three-year-old campaign last out.
The Smart Strike filly will try to get back to her winnings ways in the Azeri in advance of a possible run in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 12, but first will have to withstand the likes of Azeri defending champion Tiz Miz Sue, Grade 3 winner and last year's Azeri runner-up She's All In, and Don't Tell Sophia, who romped by 7 1/4 lengths in the Pippin prior to a 6 1/2-length win in the Bayakoa over the local track.