Bob Baffert always seems to have a Kentucky Derby contender in his back pocket.
This year, he’s had to reach for it.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s top contender for the Run for the Roses, Mastery, was knocked off the Derby trail last weekend. Mastery stormed to a 6 3/4 -length victory in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday but moments later pulled up lame. A fractured left front ankle was the culprit.
Baffert will make another run at the Derby this Saturday when his American Anthem goes to post against a field of 10 others in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The $900,000, Grade 2 race covers 1 1/16 miles and offers 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner. The Rebel serves as a prep for the $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 15 at Oaklawn.
American Anthem is the 2-1 favorite.
If anyone knows the way in the Rebel it’s Baffert, who is bidding for his fourth consecutive victory in the stakes, his sixth overall and his seventh in the last eight years.
Baffert won the Rebel in 2010 with champion Lookin At Lucky, 2011 with The Factor, 2012 with Secret Circle, 2014 with Hoppertunity, 2015 with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and last year with Cupid.
American Anthem a son of 2012 Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister, won his Dec. 3 career debut at Del Mar and finished second in his only other start, the $100,000 Sham Stakes on Jan. 7 at Santa Anita.
The colt is scheduled to break from post 7 under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and carry 115 pounds. American Anthem has drawn outside two other speedsters, Uncontested and unbeaten Malagacy.
“I think the break is important, but I’ll let Mike do what he wants to do,” Baffert said in an Oaklawn Park news release. “My horse is pretty quick, too, and he’s fast. He’s got natural speed.”
Uncontested, who goes off at 10-1 for Wayne Catalano, was a wire-to-wire winner of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 16 in his 3-year-old debut.
Malagacy ships in from south Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher. The son of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford has won his two career starts this year at Gulfstream Park by a combined 22 lengths.
Petrov (9-2) finished second in the Smarty Jones and Southwest for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett.
“It’s going to be an interesting race the way it shapes up,” Moquett said. “There’s a lot of great riders in there. I’m going to watch it like a fan and see whose horse wins.”
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won the Rebel three times, including in 2007 with Curlin, will be represented by Lookin At Lee, third in the Southwest, and Untrapped, runner-up in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds.
Silver Dust ran fourth in the Southwest for trainer Randy Morse.
Also shipping in from Southern California is Royal Mo for trainer John Shirreffs. He won the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4 at Santa Anita in his last start.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas won the 2013 Rebel with Will Take Charge. Lukas will try his luck with Silver Bullion on Saturday
Rebel Stakes field with morning-line odds
Lookin At Lee