HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Secret Circle battled for a three-quarter length victory Saturday, turning back a challenge from Optimizer in the $500,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and giving Bob Baffert his third consecutive victory in the Grade II race.
Secret Circle finished the 11/16 miles in 1:44.5, though co-owner Karl Watson said it remains to be seen where the horse will run again. The Rebel is a prep for the $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 14.
Watson said he felt confident after Baffert sent him a text message earlier in the week saying Secret Circle was “breathing fire.”
“He’s not one to overpromise,” Watson said of Baffert, who didn’t make the trip to Arkansas for the race.
Jockey Rafael Bejarano, who rode to victory, said Secret Circle continues to improve.
“I’m glad they made the decision to bring him back here. It was the right decision. He was really ready today. The key was getting him to relax. He has lots of talent,” Bejarano said.
Jim Barnes, an assistant trainer to Baffert, said he expects Secret Circle to take the next step.
“It looks like he will (keep going). Bob will decide all that, but we did what we had to today,” Barnes said.
“He got the mile-sixteenth and showed he could rate a bit. I’ll be getting my room for the Arkansas Derby tomorrow.”
Secret Circle, who won the $150,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in February, fended off D. Wayne Lukas-trained Optimizer and Scatman, who was the second finisher in the Southwest.
“We are real proud. We didn’t get beat by much – only about a half-length. They only get longer and tougher from here. That’s the way it goes,” Lukas said.
Secret Circle paid $4, $3.20 and $2.80. Optimizer, ridden by Jon Court, paid $15.60 and $8.80, and Scatman paid $4.60. Secret Circle carried 122 pounds, giving up between 3 pounds and 7 pounds to the field.