03/17/2013 1:07PM

Notes on the Rebel, Bright Thought, and Other Stuff

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Oxbow ran well in narrow defeat in the Rebel. He was close to a lively pace, and the early pace player who was closest to Oxbow at the end, 6-5 favorite Super Ninety Nine, finished a large 8 1-4 lengths behind him in fifth. Den’s Legacy also ran well finishing third in the Rebel, beaten two lengths for it all. Den’s Legacy was on the rail every step of the way, but the rail is often not the place to be at Oaklawn, and that appeared to be the case again Saturday.

That said, the initial impression is the Rebel will join a list of suspect races for this particular 3-year-old crop. Going back to last fall, the Remsen, the Kentucky Jockey Club, the San Vicente, and the Risen Star are, for starters and for the moment, at least, races the strength of which are open to question.

As an aside, please don’t tell me that Oxbow’s game effort Saturday vindicates the form of the Risen Star, in which he finished fourth. He is only one horse. Let’s see what the other six horses who were less than four lengths behind 135-1 and now sidelined Risen Star winner Ive Struck a Nerve do in their next starts before issuing proclamations that the Risen Star was better than the mediocre race it looked like it was.

Part of the reason why, for me, this Rebel failed to hit it out of the park as a meaningful penultimate Kentucky Derby prep is because it was won by Will Take Charge. In his defense, Will Take Charge was making only his seventh career start Saturday, so he still has lots of room to improve. And Will Take Charge improved Saturday, running his best race yet and earning a career-best Beyer of 95, which topped his previous best by eight points. However, there were good reasons why Will Take Charge went off at 28-1 in the Rebel, specifically very spotty prior form, and a previous claim to fame being a win in the Smarty Jones over modest opposition.

One other reason why this Rebel left me wanting is I think it should have been a faster race than it was. As noted, the pace was lively, so the table was set for a strong final time. But the final time wasn’t strong, and I feel that says something about the horses who were in this race.

Quality, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But right now, for me, the big Florida Triple Crown preps we’ve seen so far – chronologically the Holy Bull, the Fountain of Youth, and the Tampa Bay Derby – are of distinctly higher quality than the ones we’ve seen elsewhere. So far.

What an absolute monster Bright Thought has turned into on grass. I don’t care how hard and fast the turf might have been Saturday at Santa Anita, or how limited his San Luis Rey opposition was. You just don’t see horses pull away late as powerfully as Bright Thought did in the San Luis Rey, particularly at the end of 12 furlongs, and especially after that horse made or prompted the pace. Bright Thought was so full of run late that it looked like he only jumped into the race in midstretch.

Joyful Victory was very, very good winning the Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, and it speaks well of her and her connections that her two performances this year at age 5 were the best efforts of her career. Joyful Victory’s emergence, if late, is welcome, because My Miss Aurelia’s alarmingly empty effort in the Azeri at Oaklawn suggests there is an opening near the top of the older female division.

Finally, judging from her emphatic score over a good field in the Honey Fox at Gulfstream, Centre Court seems set on being a major middle-distance force in the female turf division this year.