The Saturday Special – March 16

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Split divisions of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes – filling a significant void left by continued postponement of racing at Santa Anita Park – headlines this week’s a slightly abbreviated edition of The Saturday Special.

We’re abbreviated because of the ongoing situation at Santa Anita, which saw another breakdown Thursday and then parent company The Stronach Group rolled out new plans to ban race-day medication when racing resumes. The move undoubtedly will cause great debate in the game, seen by some as knee jerk and by others as a long time coming.

Several top California-based trainers shipped some of their best runners to Hot Springs for the Rebel, which split when 19 entrants passed the box, and other supporting stakes. Oaklawn added $500,000 to the races, bringing each division to $750,000 and each race will award 75 percent of the Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 37.5, 15, 7.5 and 3.75 scale to the top four.

We’re also a smidge shorter than usual with racing overseas taking a deep breath following another memorable edition of the Cheltenham Festival. Fear not though, flat season is right around the corner and we’ll be back with our European previews in the coming weeks.

Here’s your primer for Saturday, March 16. Happy St. Patrick’s Day Sunday, be safe and good luck.

Oaklawn Park. Race 1. 2:05 p.m. Rebel Day is always one of the best ones of the season in Hot Springs. The opener is 6-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.

Gulfstream Park. Race 5. 2:38. Mischievous Bird, seventh in debut at 2-1 last August at Saratoga, makes return without blinkers for Norm Casse. All the usual suspects with runners in 6-furlong maiden – Todd Pletcher (Presto), Chad Brown (Sayyaaf), Ian Wilkes (Wild Behavior and Marsac) and Eddie Kenneally (Island Song).

Oaklawn. Race 2. 2:38. Tip of the hat to the racing office for 1 1/2-mile starter allowance. We need more of this, not less.

Aqueduct. Race 3. 2:40. The $100,000 Correction might be Linda Rice’s for the taking; she sends out four of the six fillies and mares in 6-furlong stakes. The best one? How about Sower, second in similar stakes in late January.

Oaklawn. Race 3. 3:11. Cowboy Diplomacy ran well in debut and looks to graduate for Brad Cox and Jose Ortiz stretching out to 1 1/16 miles.

Laurel Park. Race 5. 3:12. Twisted Tom ventures outside New York-bed company to take on Bonus Points, John Jones and others in $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial.

Fair Grounds. Race 5. 3:38. Graduation day looms for Helena, Juddmonte homebred daughter of Trappe Shot for Brad Cox.

Fair Grounds. Race 6. 4:10. Louisiana-bred fillies and mares on the turf in $60,000 Red Camelia.

Laurel. Race 7. 4:12. Las Setas and Afleet Destiny look tough in $100,000 Beyond The Wire, a 1-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Laurel. Race 8. 4:43. Alwaysmining looks to take another step toward the Federico Tesio – and maybe the Kentucky Derby or Preakness beyond that – against six others in $100,000 Private Terms.

Oaklawn. Race 6. 4:45. Bob Baffert looks to start what could be a big day with Ike in 1-mile optional claimer that also features Life’s A Parlay and Dazzling Gem.

Fair Grounds. Race 8. 5:14. Support hasn’t run a bad one in five starts but still looking for that second wind. Daughter of Arch faces nine other 3-year-old flies in 1 1/16-mile turf optional.

Laurel. Race 9. 5:16. Tough to sort out field of 11 Maryland-breds for $75,000 Conniver at 7 furlongs. Anna’s Bandit will be favored and we’ll take a flyer with Limited View.

Oaklawn. Race 7. 5:21. How’s this for a co-feature? The Grade 2 Azeri draws Midnight Bisou, champion Shamrock Rose, Alabama winner Eskimo Kisses and multiple Grade 1 winner Elate.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 5:31. Well-matched group for state-bred optional going 6-furlongs.

Gulfstream. Race 11. 5:37. Pacific Gale nearly upset Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie on Pegasus Day and now looks to break through in Grade 2 Inside Information against Jala Jala, Pink Sands, Tequilita and Teresa Z.

Fair Grounds. Race 9. 5:46. Eight of the 10 in 6-furlong maiden make their debut. We’ll go with one that started, Stonestreet’s New Frontier for Steve Asmussen.

Laurel. Race 10. 5:49. Laki, Rockinn On Bye and Lewisfield completed the trifecta last time in state-bred stakes in early December and they’re back for another in $75,000 Not For Love. Laki ran twice since, including a good third in the Grade 3 General George last time out.

Oaklawn. Race 8. 5:57. First division of the Grade 2 Rebel draws unbeaten Grade 1 winner Improbable, Cal Cup Derby winner Galilean and Extra Hope, all in from California.

Oaklawn. Race 9. 6:29. One figures the Essex Handicap will get its graded status back after this year’s $350,000 renewal featuring Giant Expectations, Hence, Sonneteer, Snapper Sinclair, Heavy Roller and Dalmore.

Oaklawn. Race 10. 7:06. Undefeated champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner makes 2019 debut and possible step toward the Kentucky Derby in second division of $750,000 Rebel. Nine opponents in this one, including Omaha Beach, Our Braintrust and Gunmetal Gray.

Oaklawn. Race 11. 7:38. Firecrow, son of Maclean’s Music who cost $300,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale in Timonium, makes debut from outside post for Ron Moquett in 6-furlong maiden. Nifty also should factor after improving from debut to second start.