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A brief history of and recent betting trends in the Rebel Stakes

By Vance Hanson

If Saturday’s Rebel (G2) is split into two divisions as Oaklawn Park officials expect, each division of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series prep will be worth $750,000. Derby qualifying points of 37 1/2 – 15 – 7 1/2 – 3 3/4 will be distributed to the top four finishers in each division.

If the race is indeed split, the heavy favorites will be the Bob Baffert-trained pair of Game Winner and Improbable, whom Oaklawn officials have said would not be placed in the same division.

The 1 1/16-mile Rebel has had an interesting history. Beginning life as an overnight handicap in the 1960s, the Rebel’s first significant winner was Temperence Hill (1980), who would go on to win the Belmont Stakes (G1) and the three-year-old title.

The first horse to win the Rebel and the Kentucky Derby (G1) was Sunny’s Halo in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the Rebel was finally elevated to Grade 3 status. In the 1990s it was won by future classic winners Pine Bluff (1992) and Victory Gallop (1998).

The purse of the Rebel declined to $100,000 at the turn of the century, and for two years it was run as a non-graded Listed event. The race’s fortune took a turn for the better in 2004 when the purse was boosted to $200,000 and a $5 million bonus was offered to any horse that could win Oaklawn’s major preps — the Southwest, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby — and the Kentucky Derby. As luck would have it, Smarty Jones took full advantage of that enticement and swept all four races. The Rebel was elevated back to a Grade 3 event the following year, and in 2008 was boosted to a Grade 2.

As can be seen from a list of winners since Smarty Jones, the Rebel has generally been a formful race. Bob Baffert has trained six of them since 2010, including the shortest-priced winner (American Pharoah) and the highest single-digit priced winner (Hoppertunity).

YEAR WINNER ODDS
2004 Smarty Jones 3.50
2005 Greater Good 4.60
2006 Lawyer Ron 1.80
2007 Curlin 2.70
2008 Sierra Sunset 4.20
2009 Win Willy 56.80
2010 Lookin at Lucky 1.10
2011 The Factor 1.40
2012 Secret Circle 1.00
2013 Will Take Charge 28.00
2014 Hoppertunity 6.10
2015 American Pharoah 0.40
2016 Cupid 2.90
2017 Malagacy 3.30
2018 Magnum Moon 3.00

The two longshot winners of the Rebel since 2004 turned out to be good ones. Win Willy eventually earned over a million dollars and won the 2011 Oaklawn H. (G2). Will Take Charge was sent off at long odds after winning the Smarty Jones at odds of 12-1 but faltering to sixth in a Southwest (G3) contested in the slop. Unplaced in all three Triple Crown events, he finally turned things around late in the season and was voted champion three-year-old colt.

When Baffert or big longshots haven’t ruled, the Rebel has been the domain of horses making their first start in a stakes race. Curlin (2007) notably won his stakes debut in the Rebel en route to Horse of the Year honors, and the last three winners of the Rebel — the Todd Pletcher-trained Magnum Moon and Malagacy, and the Baffert-trained Cupid — all entered the race with no stakes experience.

We’ll have to see the composition of the field or fields Wednesday afternoon, but it’s a safe assumption bettors across the country will expect Baffert’s decade-long dominance of the Rebel will continue Saturday rather than the streak of stakes newbies winning. On the other hand, three odds-on favorites have lost the Rebel during the time span in question — Afleet Alex (2005), Z Fortune (2008), and Old Fashioned (2009) — and Baffert-trained favorites have lost each of the past two editions.

When a Baffert-trained horse has won the Rebel, the average $2 Exacta payoff has been more than $59.80. If you’re confident in Game Winner and/or Improbable getting the job done Saturday, your betting fortunes might depend on finding the future good one, like Caleb’s Posse (24-1 in 2011) or Whitmore (4-1 in 2016), for the second slot.

 

Improbable: (c) Benoit Photos

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