Pressed by a pair of aggressive rivals through the opening three-quarters of Saturday’s Grade 2, US$1 million Rebel Stakes, Nadal proved to be the goods when putting them away and fending off all comers to punch his ticket to the 2020 Kentucky Derby.
First it was the Louisiana-bred No Parole who tried to beat rail-riding Nadal to the first turn. When that one backed off, fellow California invader American Theorem took his turn.
As a result, fractions over a sloppy track went in a swift 22.89 and 46 seconds flat to open proceedings. Nadal, who entered 2-for-2, but hadn’t gone two turns before this Oaklawn Park feature, edged ahead off the turn and delivered trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh victory in the Rebel.
“Pretty impressive when they can just keep going like that,” Baffert said. “Only the really good ones can do that.
“I was just fortunate that you guys even ran the race, right now with the way things are,” he added, with the stands bare at Oaklawn to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “Crazy.”
The final time was 1:44.97 for 1 1/16 miles, and it appeared for a moment that 80-1 shot Excession, running from the clouds, would edge out the odds-on favourite. Nadal had just enough left in the tank under Joel Rosario to keep his unbeaten record intact.
“He just had another gear,” Rosario said.
Nadal earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and Excession received 20. Farther back, Basin in third (10) and Three Technique in fourth (5) were others headed up the leader board.