All eyes on American Pharoah as champ returns in Rebel

American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile), last year's champion juvenile colt, returns to action Saturday in the $750,000 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park. The 1 1/16-mile fixture, which offers 50 qualifying points to the winner as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, is the first of two likely preps for American Pharoah on his way to the Louisville classic.

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Despite missing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) due to a suspensory injury, American Pharoah's dominating scores in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and FrontRunner (G1) were deemed strong enough by a plurality of Eclipse Award voters to give him the juvenile title. The FrontRunner was an especially strong race that included subsequent Breeders' Cup winner Texas Red (Afleet Alex), and Calculator (In Summation), who took the Sham (G3) at Santa Anita in early January.

A homebred racing for Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah has worked six times since early February, including several at distances ranging from six to seven furlongs. His latest move at his Santa Anita homebase was a blockbuster -- six furlongs 1:10 2/5 from the gate -- and the champion figures to make all from post 4 in the field of seven.

American Pharoah's trainer, Bob Baffert, has owned the Rebel in recent years, winning four of the last five renewals. His first win in the race came in 2010, with juvenile champion Lookin at Lucky.

The Rebel lost some luster earlier in the week when champion juvenile filly Take Charge Brandi (Giant's Causeway) was declared after the discovery of a knee chip. It would have marked the first meeting between the previous year's juvenile champions since the 1975 match race involving Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian.

Among those looking to upset the heavy favorite is The Truth Or Else (Yes It's True), a deep-closing second in the Southwest (G3) three weeks ago. Over a sloppy track, the Kenny McPeek pupil made up 14 lengths but was outfinished by the rail-skimming Far Right (Notional).

The Truth Or Else, like all the others in the Rebel lineup, has yet to win a stakes. He was also a distant third in both the Champagne (G1) and Nashua (G2) last fall.

Bold Conquest (Curlin), a belated fourth in the Southwest, might improve in his second start of the year. The Steve Asmussen trainee placed twice in major stakes in Kentucky last fall, finishing a neck second in the Iroquois (G3) and a distant third in the Breeders' Futurity (G1).

Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out Madefromlucky (Lookin at Lucky) for his stakes debut. The chestnut has won back-to-back races at Gulfstream this winter, most recently a nine-furlong allowance in his debut for Pletcher. He hails from the family of leading sire Tapit, as well as champions Rubiano and Summer Bird.

The other three Rebel starters appear overmatched on paper. Paid Admission (Candy Ride) was seventh in the January 19 Smarty Jones and a distant second against allowance foes last time. Tizwonderfulcreek (Tiz Wonderful) and Sakima (Curlin) were both unplaced against allowance company most recently.