Timberlake the favorite for $1.25M Rebel Stakes

A Champagne Stakes winner races in Arkansas about as often as Joe Biden and Donald Trump agree on something. But it's about to happen for the second time this decade.

Call Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort a road to the Triple Crown less traveled by most winners of the premier 2-year-old race in New York. Tiz the Law, in the 2020 Belmont Stakes, from the same connections as the late dual-classic winner Funny Cide, is the last Champagne winner to score in a Triple Crown event. From a race older than the Kentucky Derby, dating to 1867, its roll call of winners include future TC winners Seattle Slew (1976) and Count Fleet (1942). Secretariat was disqualified after winning the 1972 Champagne when Horse of the Year at 2.

Yet, here we are with Timberlake, the favorite Saturday at Oaklawn, not long after Jackie's Warrior (2020) cruised home locally in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Brad Cox chose the Grade 2, mile-and-16th Rebel Stakes as a return race for the Into Mischief colt, who races for WinStar Farms (Kenny Troutt) and Siena Farm.

Fifty points toward a possible May 4 start in the Kentucky Derby go to the winner. The next four Rebel finishers divvy up 55 points for a spot at the Churchill Downs starting gate.

It's the earliest Rebel and richest February race ever in Hot Springs at $1.25 million.

An earlier winner at Ellis Park in Kentucky, Timberlake scored in the Champagne in October at Aqueduct (Belmont Park is under construction, hence the move from Long Island to Queens) and ran fourth to juvenile champion Fierceness in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park a month later. With Oaklawn leader Cristian Torres named to ride in the Rebel, Cox tries to strengthen his hand for the Derby, having won an Oaklawn stake and placed third in a Grade 2 race last time out in Louisiana with Catching Freedom.

The 6-5 choice in the morning line, Timberlake breaks from post seven under 119 pounds. The scheduled post time is 5:23 p.m. for the 11th of 12 races on a card starting at noon.

"We gave him a little bit of a break after the Breeders' Cup," said Cox, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the country's outstanding trainer. "He had a long campaign, and we were very happy with what he was able to accomplish at the age of 2. Just excited about what lies ahead for him. He's really turned it on over the last two weeks with his works."

Clipping five furlongs in a bullet 59.40 seconds February 10 and again at 1:00.20 on February 16, both in New Orleans, Timberlake gets this accolade from Cox: "We feel like we've got him about as good as we're going to get him."

Just Steel, trained by Wayne Lukas, comes off two stakes seconds at the track, though eight lengths behind Mystik Dan in the Grade 3 $800,000 Southwest on February 3. Carbone, surprising Southwest favorite, breaks from the rail post with Isaac Castillo up and 15-1 in the program. Asmussen sends out two other horses, local winner Dimatic (8-1, Tyler Gaffalione) and Lagynos (20-1, Keith Asmussen), the latter seen by Horse Racing Nation analyst Ed DeRosa as an exacta threat although unlikely to win.

Northern Flame, Common Defense, Tejon Pass, Magic Grant, Next Level, Mena,Woodcourt and Time for Truth complete the field. Timberlake, 12th with 16 points, is the highest-ranking Rebel starter on the Derby leaderboard. Others with points are Just Steel and Ken McPeek-trained Common Defense. McPeek is saving Mystik Dan (sixth with 21 points) for the Grade 2 $1.5 million Arkansas Derby March 30.

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