Nadal displayed terrific resolve and remained unbeaten in Saturday’s $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2), prevailing by three-quarters of a length over a sloppy Oaklawn Park track. Joel Rosario was up on the Bob Baffert-trained colt, and Nadal stamped his Kentucky Derby ticket with the 50-point prize for the qualifying race.
Now 3-for-3, the bay colt earned his first win at two turns and left the starting gate as the 9-10 favorite among eight 3-year-olds. Nadal didn’t break on top from the innermost post, but he quickly advanced to duel with No Parole. After leading by a head through an opening quarter-mile in :22.89, Nadal faced a challenge from American Theorem, who rushed forward on the outside to engage pacesetter into the backstretch.
Nadal continued to rattle off fast fractions (:46 and 1:11.38) under serious pressure until shaking loose from American Theorem nearing the conclusion of the far turn. He entered the stretch up by about a length as Three Technique tried vainly to draw even after rallying into contention from midpack, but suddenly a new danger came from Excession, who rallied dramatically into the frame from last in the early stages.
Excession came charging up the rail off the turn, momentarily waiting on heels behind Nadal before shifting several paths toward the middle of the track. Nadal dug in determinedly, finding more in deep stretch to turn back the serious threat and reassert control under the wire.
“We were hoping for that outcome,” Baffert said by phone from California. “We knew he was a good horse, but until they go two turns…”
“I always felt like I had horse,” Rosario added. “He’s big and just muscles into position.”
Nadal completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:44.97. A physically imposing son of Blame, he races for the partnership of George Bolton, Arthur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman, and Mark Mathiesen
As part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Rebel awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale, and Nadal was making his first start in a qualifier. Excession, who was exiting a pair of unplaced efforts in Fair Grounds qualifiers, earned his initial points toward a Kentucky Derby berth finishing a clear second. Basin, who was last seen posting a convincing win in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, finished seven lengths back in third off the layoff, a head better than 5-1 Three Technique in fourth.
Coach Bahe, Silver Prospector, American Theorem and No Parole completed the order.
Bred in Kentucky by Sierra Farm, Nadal was purchased for $700,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Florida March 2-year-old sale. He is out of the Pulpit mare Ascending Angel, and this is the immediate female family of 1991 champion 2-year-old filly Pleasant Stage.
Nadal was exiting a pair of front-running wins at Santa Anita, breaking his maiden by a 3 3/4-length margin at 6 1/2 furlongs in his Jan. 19 career debut. He came back three weeks later to take the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2) by three parts of a lengths, and has now captured all three starts wire-to-wire.
Baffert, a five-time Kentucky Derby victor, has now won the Rebel a record seven times.