Updated on 09/17/2011 9:59PM

Three different roads to Rebel

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Rockport Harbor got back to the track for a jog Tuesday after three days out with a sore foot.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Some are calling it one of the most anticipated races in the 101-year history of Oaklawn Park.

The Grade 3, $250,000 on Saturday will be the first meeting of Afleet Alex and Rockport Harbor, two of the nation's top-ranked 3-year-olds, and Greater Good, who is one of the most accomplished, with three two-turn stakes victories. But the trio are not coming into the race with similar-looking past performance lines. Rather, they are coming into it from very diverse paths, something that has added another level of intrigue to the Rebel.

Afleet Alex is the Grade 1 Hopeful winner who earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 106 in his 2004 debut last out and who will be making his first two-turn start of the year. Rockport Harbor is the undefeated winner of the Grade 2 Remsen who will be making his first start at 3 after battling a minor foot issue in the last few days. And then there is Greater Good, winner of the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile and Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, who already has a two-turn stakes victory at Oaklawn.

Batson Challenge and Jazzy Gallop are also expected for the Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile race that serves as a stepping-stone to the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16.

Afleet Alex wowed the nation on March 5, when in his first start of the year he earned his 106 Beyer for a 2 3/4-length win in the $50,000 Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn. The race was run over six furlongs, and on Saturday he will be making his first two-turn start since finishing second in the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 30.

Afleet Alex has yet to win around two turns, but "he should have," said his trainer, Tim Ritchey. The colt experienced extreme trouble when making his two-turn debut in the Juvenile.

"He stumbled leaving the gate and was last, then he got bounced when he tried to go up between horses," said Ritchey. "He raced four or five wide around both turns and got beat three-quarters of a length.

"A lot of horses would have ended up third, fourth, fifth in the race. If he just breaks good, I think he's probably three or four lengths best in the race."

Afleet Alex was given a freshening following the Breeders' Cup, and signaled he is sitting on another big season when he earned the year's top Beyer for a 3-year-old with his easy, impressive win in the Mountain Valley. Following the race, he went out seven furlongs in 1:22.60 to prepare for the Rebel.

Rockport Harbor showed grit in the Nov. 27 Remsen, when after being stepped on by a rival he battled to the wire to win the 1 1/8-mile race. The half-inch-deep gash he suffered on his right hind foot flared up on Saturday, and after missing three days of training, Rockport Harbor was able to go back to the track on Tuesday.

"He jogged a mile," said John Servis, who trains Rockport Harbor. "He's hitting the ground good. We wanted to see how he was hitting, so we let him gallop around the turn a little. Everything's a go."

In all, Rockport Harbor has missed five days of training for the Rebel - three for his hind foot issue, and two for his left front foot, which was tender last month when his shoe was found to be pinching his sole.

"The way it worked out, I would have got another work in him," said Servis. "If I'd have got that work in him, he'd be exactly where I wanted to be."

Otherwise, the colt has thrived.

"He's filled out a lot," said Servis. "He's taken on that colt look instead of that immature look, and attitude-wise he's very good.

"I think his greatest asset is probably his ability to be steady," he said. "He can just clip along at a steady pace, and he's going to run a lot of horses into the ground doing that."

Greater Good has not missed a beat in his preparations for the Rebel, and he appears to be coming into a strong race. It will be his second start of the year, following his huge last-to-first win in the $100,000 Southwest here on Feb. 19.

"He's doing excellent, and I don't know how much better he can get," said Bob Holthus, who trains Greater Good. "He feels good, he's training good, and he's got a good foundation under him, so I don't know how much more he can improve."

Holthus said he is eager for Greater Good to take on company like Afleet Alex and Rockport Harbor.

"I think we'll have a line on whether he can compete with Grade 1 horses," said Holthus. "Those two are probably as good as any in the country, and they'll tell you whether you belong on the Kentucky Derby trail, or some other trail. I think [Greater Good] will run very well. I'd be disappointed if he doesn't run a big race."