When the Rebel once belonged to Loblolly Stable
Since 2004, Smarty Jones, Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Lookin at Lucky, Secret Circle, Will Take Charge, and American Pharoah have all graced the Rebel winner's circle, and its status should continue its ascension now that Oaklawn has pumped up its purse to $900,000.
In recent weeks I've picked out five underrated winners of the Gotham (G3) and San Felipe (G2), but thought I'd shake things up a bit this week. Instead, it's fitting to pay homage to the five Rebel winners owned by Arkansas native John Ed Anthony's Loblolly Stable, which had its fingerprints all over the race in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The chocolate and yellow Loblolly silks were ubiquitous at Oaklawn and nationwide for nearly two decades, and most of its Rebel winners went on to gain national fame.
Temperence Hill (1980)
The stable's first champion was a 16-1 outsider when he rallied from 17 lengths down to take the Rebel, then worth a mere $64,000. After adding the Arkansas Derby (G2), the son of Stop the Music pulled an even bigger shock in the Belmont S. (G1) in June, defeating Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk, Preakness (G1) winner Codex, and juvenile champion Rockhill Native at odds of 53-1.
That win in the "Test of the Champion" was certainly no fluke as he added the the Travers (G1), Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), and inaugural Super Derby to his trophy collection. Named champion three-year-old colt, Temperence Hill returned to Oaklawn at four to claim the Razorback H. (G3), Oaklawn H. (G2), and Suburban H. (G1).
The Rebel purse was nearly double by the time Vanlandingham came along four years later. Victorious as the 6-5 favorite, the Cox's Ridge colt did not start again until the Kentucky Derby, where he faded to 16th in a field of 20. He was sore coming back to be unsaddled and did not race again for more than a year.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey's first champion, Vanlandingham displayed rare versatility at four, winning the Stephen Foster H., Suburban, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Washington, D.C. International, the latter over 12 furlongs on the turf. Only he and the legendary gelding Kelso ever won the Gold Cup and International in the same year. The International victory, which came after a poor showing in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), proved the title clincher as champion older male.
Demons Begone (1987)
A solid if unspectacular two-year-old with placings in the Futurity (G1) and Champagne (G1) to his credit, the son of Preakness hero Elocutionist roared into Churchill Downs the following spring as the 2-1 Kentucky Derby favorite after blowout victories in the Southwest, Rebel, and Arkansas Derby. Unfortunately, he was pulled up down the backside by jockey Pat Day after bleeding profusely from the nostrils.
Demons Begone never fully regained his best form. Unplaced in the Ohio Derby (G2) in his only other start at three, he captured a six-furlong allowance at Oaklawn the following March, finished a well-beaten third to Lost Code in the Razorback, and then failed to finish the Oaklawn H., also won by Lost Code.
Pine Bluff (1992)
A Danzig half-brother to Demons Begone, he, too, had placed in the Futurity and Champagne, but ended his juvenile campaign on a higher note taking the Remsen (G2) and Nashua (G3) at Aqueduct. Second in the Southwest in his sophomore bow, he rebounded to take the Rebel (G3) by 2 1/2 lengths and then edged eventual Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee by a neck in the Arkansas Derby.
Fifth at Churchill Downs, Pine Bluff was a mild 7-2 favorite to halt Lil E. Tee's Triple Crown bid in the Preakness. The Derby winner was nowhere to be found at the finish, yet Pine Bluff still had to grind out a three-quarters of a length victory over the Canadian speedster Alydeed, who later captured the Queen's Plate. Pine Bluff's career ended following a third-place effort to A.P. Indy in the Belmont.
Although the least accomplished of the Loblolly quintet to win the Rebel, the Forty Niner colt did show flashes of brilliance from time to time. A 6 1/2-length score in the Nashua, his juvenile finale, stamped himself as a classic prospect to keep an eye on.
A comfortable winner of the Rebel by three lengths, Dalhart's Derby ambitions went up smoke when he finish ninth of 10 in the Arkansas Derby as the odds-on favorite. He would never again win in stakes company, but did score a thrilling, photo-finish allowance win over Grade 1 winner Valley Crossing at Oaklawn at four.
What was so special about that allowance victory? Nothing much, other than the fact I witnessed it on my first ever trip to Oaklawn on March 26, 1994. It was arguably a better field than the one assembled for the Razorback later that day.
(Temperence Hill photo: NYRA/Bob Coglianese)
(Pine Bluff photo found on NBCSports.com)