Rebel Stakes Historic Talent

The Road to the Kentucky Derby passes through Arkansas on Saturday, as the million dollar, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes takes place at Oaklawn Park.

A competitive field is expected to line up for this 1 1/16 mile contest. Along with purse money the Winner will also earn 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

The race was inaugurated in 1961 as the Rebel Handicap, and was changed to the Rebel Stakes in 1984. That same year, the distance was adjusted from one mile and 70 yards to 1 1/16 miles.

In 1990, the race was given Grade 3 status, but was ungraded in 2003 and 2004. It was upgraded to Grade 2 in 2008.

In recent years, this race has seen dramatic purse increases. In 2011, the race carried a purse of $300,000. By 2016, the purse had tripled to $900,000. It was held as a $1 million race for the first time in 2020.

The roster of past Rebel Winners is very impressive. Here, we’ll take a look at three notable names from not so long ago.


In his first Oaklawn start, SMARTY JONES Won the Southwest Stakes by three-quarters of a length. Despite that performance, he did not command that much respect at the betting windows on Rebel Stakes day. He was the 7-2 third choice behind the much-hyped Todd Pletcher trainee PURGE and Fair Grounds shipper MR. JESTER.

PURGE went out to the lead, while jockey Stewart Elliott rated SMARTY JONES just off the leader’s flank in 2nd. As the field rounded the far turn, PURGE maintained a narrow advantage but SMARTY JONES continued to edge closer. PURGE had no response in the last eighth, and SMARTY JONES pulled away for a 3 ¼-length victory.

Following a dominant Win in the Arkansas Derby, SMARTY JONES went to Louisville as the Derby favorite, with a shot to become the first undefeated KD Winner since SEATTLE SLEW in 1977. On a sloppy track, he wore down pacesetting LION HEART for a 2 ¾-length Victory.

SMART JONES then Won the Preakness Stakes in dominant fashion, setting himself up to become the first Triple Crown Winner in 26 years. A crowd of more than 120,000 showed up to Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes to cheer on the popular Pennsylvania-bred. He lost to late-running, upset Winner BIRDSTONE in one of the most memorable Triple Crown races of this century.

CURLIN (2007)

CURLIN was on the national racing radar from the moment he made his debut. He Won his first start at Gulfstream Park in February 2007 by 12 ¾ lengths, going seven furlongs in 1:22.25. After that Win, after that Win his connections transferred him to the barn of Steve Asmussen.

For his second start, CURLIN took a jump in class, and yet went off as the second betting choice in the Rebel Stakes. Against a tougher field and stretching out around two turns for the fist time, he was just as impressive. He made a big, four-wide sweep on the turn and powered away in stretch for a dominant 5 ¼-length Win. In that moment, CURLIN became one of the Kentucky Derby favorites.

In his final tune-up for the first Saturday in May, CURLIN Won the Arkansas Derby by 10 ¼ lengths. Despite not racing at age 2 and with only three starts under his belt, CURLIN was the 5-1 second choice in the Kentucky Derby. He finished 3rd behind STREET SENSE, but avenged that defeat with a Win in the Preakness Stakes. CURLIN lost a thrilling Belmont Stakes to the filly RAGS TO RICHES, but later that year he Won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch the Horse of the Year title.


AMERICAN PHAROAH was voted Champion 2-year-old male of 2014 based on two Grade 1 Wins in California. In the Rebel Stakes he was made the overwhelming 2-5 favorite in the field of seven.

AMERICAN PHAROAH broke badly, but recovered quickly and went immediately to the front. By the time he reached the opening quarter, he was 1 ½ lengths in front and setting very moderate fractions. None of his rivals had much hope of catching him and he opened up more and more with every stride. On a very sloppy track, he crossed the finish line 6 ¼ lengths clear of the others, with a time of 1:45.78.

The Rebel proved to be a launching pad for an awe-inspiring campaign. That summer, AMERICAN PHAROAH swept his way through the Triple Crown, becoming the first horse to Win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes since AFFIRMED in 1978.

AMERICAN PHAROAH completed his year with a dominant Breeders’ Cup Classic Win. With that Victory, he became the first horse since UNBRIDLED in 1990 to Win the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year.

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