03/13/2008 12:00AM

Z Fortune the one to beat in Rebel


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Z Fortune finished second last month in one of the most productive Kentucky Derby prep races held to date, which makes him the one to beat Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park.

The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is the final stepping-stone to the $1 million Arkansas Derby.

In addition to Grade 3 Lecomte winner Z Fortune, other stakes winners set to start are Anak Nakal, Sierra Sunset, Golden Yank, and He's Eze.

Z Fortune comes out of the Grade 3 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 9. Pyro won the Risen Star, then came back to win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby last Saturday. Visionaire, who was third, also won his next start last Saturday, in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct. As for Z Fortune, he raced in sixth off a slow pace in the Risen Star, and finished two lengths behind Pyro.

"He ran well," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Z Fortune for Zayat Stables. "I thought the race didn't set up ideally for him, and he continued on nicely. The horse has got some quality about him, and he's getting a lot better."

Garrett Gomez will ride Z Fortune, who drew the outside post in the nine-horse field.

"I think that this race is going to have a solid pace in it," said Asmussen. "[He can] stretch out a little bit and just make more of a continuous run."

Sierra Sunset could be ripe for a breakout race off a strong set of works since his last start, a second to Denis of Cork in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest here Feb. 18. In his start prior to the Southwest, Sierra Sunset ran fourth in the Grade 3 San Rafael at Santa Anita.

"The last couple of races we've been up too close to fast paces, so our hope is the horse will relax," said Jeff Bonde, who trains Sierra Sunset. "We've worked real hard on making the horse relax in his gallops and races early, so we're hoping we can capture his enthusiasm enough to have something left when it's crunch time."

Anak Nakal, the winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last November, made his season debut in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 24, finishing an uncharacteristic eighth.

"He didn't break as sharp, got pushed out a little bit," said Nick Zito, who trains Anak Nakal. "I'm throwing the race out. I'm hoping he can rebound."

Joe Bravo has the mount.