- Horse Racing - Rockport Harbor still in lineup for Rebel Stakes

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Tuesday, March 15
Rockport Harbor still in lineup for Rebel Stakes

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Rockport Harbor is still expected to be in the gate for Saturday's running of the $250,000 Rebel Stakes.

The horse was slowed by an injury to a right hind hoof, but has continued to improve as he is prepared for Saturday's race and, down the line, perhaps for the Kentucky Derby.

The mile-and-a-sixteenth race for 3-year-olds will also feature Afleet Alex and Greater Good. The showcase for horses aiming for the Kentucky Derby is the final distance stakes prep at Oaklawn before the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16.

Oaklawn officials said Monday they expect a big crowd Saturday and are preparing to open the infield to patrons.

Afleet Alex is No. 1 in the AP poll of favorites for the Kentucky Derby, while unbeaten Rockport Harbor is No. 2. Afleet Alex has won five of seven starts, coming in second twice and has earned $710,800. Rockport Harbor won all four of his starts last year.

Also in the Rebel field is Jazzy Gallop, a son of Victory Gallop, who won the Rebel in 1998 and went on to edge Real Quiet in the Belmont Stakes, ruining Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid.

Jazzy Gallop is 2-3-2 in 11 starts, not impressive enough to place him at the top of Saturday's field. But trainer Steve Asmussen said Jazzy Gallop has a fair chance, particularly when factoring in the uncertainty that comes with Rockport Harbor's hoof problem.

''So I'm in a position of running a sharp horse against horses who may not be at their best. For $250,000, it's certainly worth taking a shot,'' Asmussen said. ''To me, this is the same situation as last year when I almost beat Smarty Jones with Two Down Automatic in the Southwest.''

Greater Good won the Southwest this year, and Afleet Alex, trained by Tim Ritchey, comes in with victories in The Mountain Valley and, in August, in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.

Jazzy Gallop's two victories have come in his last two races at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Baston Challenge is also to run in the Rebel for trainer Peter Vestal, who has two Rebel winners on his resume.

Trainer John Servis said Rockport Harbor was improving each day.

''As far as I'm concerned, the Rebel remains a go. There is no Plan B,'' Servis said.

The horse aggravated an injury from November in which his right hoof was stepped on.

''The damage will heal. There's no question about it,'' Servis said. ''But the only bad thing is the timing. I wish we had three weeks to the Rebel. Rocky walked the shed this morning, and showed no signs of favoring the foot,'' Servis said Monday. ''And we plan to take him back to the track tomorrow morning for a light jog.''

Stewart Elliott is to be aboard Rockport Harbor. John Velaquez is to ride Afleet Alex, replacing Jeremy Rose, who is 5-2-0 on the horse.

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