Bob Baffert-Trained Newgrange the Favorite in Saturday’s Derby Prep at Oaklawn

Posted on: February 26, 2022, 03:29h. 

Last updated on: February 26, 2022, 05:34h.

The road to the Kentucky Derby swings through Arkansas on Saturday. A field of 11 horses is expected for the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. But the morning-line favorite is a horse currently ineligible to run in the Run for the Roses that will take place in 10 weeks.

Newgrange, seen here winning last month’s Southwest Stakes, returns to Oaklawn Park on Saturday as the favorite in the Rebel Stakes. The Bob Baffert-trained colt is perfect in the first three starts of his career. (Image: Coady Photography)

Bob Baffert’s Newgrange is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the 1-1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds. The colt is 3-for-3 in his young career, including two Derby prep stakes wins last month. However, because he’s a Baffert-trained horse, Churchill Downs has ruled him – like others trained by Baffert – to be ineligible for qualifying points in prep races.

Churchill Downs banned Baffert from its tracks for two years after Medina Spirit tested positive for excessive amounts of betamethasone in his system after crossing the wire first in last year’s Kentucky Derby. Earlier this week, stewards from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) officially disqualified Medina Spirit – who died on the track after training at Santa Anita in December – as the winner. In doing so, the stewards also slapped a 90-day suspension on Baffert, effective March 8.

Due to reciprocity, Baffert’s suspension in Kentucky would keep him from entering horses elsewhere in the US until June 5. The Louisville Courier Journal reported Friday that the commission declined to stay the suspension pending Baffert’s appeal.

The appeal process first goes through the KHRC itself, and then, if the panel opts against overturning the stewards’ ruling, Baffert could then take the appeal through the state court system. There’s also a strong chance Baffert would file a lawsuit against Churchill Downs Inc. for blocking him from entering horses in the Derby and other races at the Louisville track and other Churchill Downs properties.

A Clear Favorite

While we all wait for the administrative and legal drama to unfold, the races will continue. And if Newgrange wins on Saturday, that will keep others from getting 50 qualifying points and a near-certain spot in the May 7 Derby. The second-place horse will receive 20 points, with 10 points and five points going to the third- and fourth-place finishers, respectively.

Newgrange is certainly the class of the race. After winning a maiden race in his debut last November at Del Mar, he came back on New Year’s Day to win the Sham Stakes. He went wire-to-wire at Santa Anita, and widened his lead over the field as the race progressed. He finished 2-3/4-lengths ahead of fellow Baffert-trained colt Rockefeller.

Four weeks ago, Baffert brought Newgrange to Hot Springs to race in Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes. It was a different race than the Sham. In the Southwest, he broke wide at the start and rallied from a close fourth position at the top of the stretch to win by a length and a half.

I was impressed with his last win because he was sort of stop and go the whole way and still found a way to win,” Baffert said. “That’s the sign of a good horse. I’m happy with the way he’s coming into this race.”

While he broke from the 10th gate last month, Newgrange gets the more desirable second post on Saturday. John Velazquez will get the mount again.

“We have to break well,” Baffert said. “So, that’s the key, no matter what post you have. But it should maybe be easier on him. Had to use him up outside last time.”

A fourth win in as many races could put Newgrange in line for Oaklawn’s big race, the April 2 Arkansas Derby – one of the top Derby preps.

Whether Baffert will be there remains to be seen.

Barber Road Gets Another Shot

Newgrange’s primary competition looks to be Barber Road. The John Ortiz-trained colt finished second to Newgrange in the Southwest. Barber Road was chasing him at the wire, but a five-wide trip was too much ground to overcome.

A winner of a maiden and an allowance race, Barber Road has placed in his last three starts – all stakes races. Jockey Reylu Guiterrez will get the ride, and he’s been on the colt in four of the six races.

Barber Road will break from the ninth gate. However, Ortiz said he’s not terribly worried about starting wide.

“I’m worried about my horse running his best race,” Ortiz said. “We’ve competed against the top horses in here already. We’re just going along for the ride. The speed is on the inside. I think Reylu, he’ll have the right plan. It’s all in his hands.”

Ben Diesel, who was passed by Newgrange and Barber Road in a third-place finish in the Southwest, is the third choice on the morning line at 6-1. Jon Court will ride the Dallas Stewart-trained colt, which will break from the seventh gate.

The complete field for the Rebel is available here. Post time for the race is 6:22 pm ET, and the race will be aired on Fox Sports 2.