It may have taken five starts for Omaha Beach to break his maiden, but it only took one for the son of War Front  to rocket from potential player to key contender on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Reprinted from Bloodhorse

Omaha Beach Edges Game Winner in Second Rebel Division

Son of War Front came off maiden win to take key prep on Road to Kentucky Derby.

Fox Hill Farms’ Richard Mandella trainee turned back champion 2-year-old male Game Winner, handing the 2018 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner his first defeat in the second division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16 at Oaklawn Park. The prep race for the Arkansas Derby (G1) and, ultimately, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) was split into two divisions by Oaklawn in response to the cancellation of the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

“Coming out of a maiden race, it’s a big step up,” Mandella said of Omaha Beach, who won for the first time Feb. 2 going seven furlongs at Santa Anita. “Game Winner ran really good. He hadn’t run in a long time. He’ll probably be tough next time, but mine just broke his maiden. He might be tougher, too.”

Omaha Beach is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Charming, the dam of champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi and a daughter of multiple grade 1 winner-turned blue hen producer Take Charge Lady. He made his first three starts on the turf, resulting in a third and a pair of seconds, before Mandella shifted him to the main track this year. He ran second going a mile on dirt Jan. 4, then soared by nine lengths before his Rebel bid. 

“We always thought he was a really good horse. Being a War Front, I thought maybe he was going to want turf. But I was wrong with that. He wants dirt,” Mandella said.

Omaha Beach broke sharply from post 6 under Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the Rebel and was third, three deep, as Market King took the field through an opening quarter in :23.54. Smith wasted no time taking control with a move midway through the backstretch, and Omaha Beach took over by a head to run a half in :47.29. 

Game Winner, sixth early under Joel Rosario, mounted a willing four-wide bid around the far turn and was second after three-quarters in 1:11.82, but Omaha Beach already had a length advantage and widened that margin to two leaving the far turn.

From the head of the lane to the finish, the two separated themselves from the field and engaged in an all-out battle, with Game Winner even edging a nose in front through a 1:36.39 mile. But Omaha Beach battled back to his inside and claimed the victory by the slimmest nostril in a final time of 1:42.42.

“I would have liked to have won, but I’m very happy with both horses,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who sent out Improbable to a runner-up finish in the first division of the Rebel. “They both ran well off the layoff. Thank goodness for the Cella family. We got to run both horses today. It was great racing.”

It was 8 1/4 lengths back to third-place Market King, trained by another Hall of Famer, D. Wayne Lukas. The order of finish was completed by Gunmetal Gray, Jersey Agenda, Captain Von Trapp, Laughing Fox, Parsimony, Kaziranga, and Our Braintrust

“I was real pleased—real pleased,” Lukas said of the Into Mischief  colt’s effort. “I think we’re still in the learning process. I think he’s still a little bit heavy. I’m trying to tighten him down and everything, but this is a step in the right direction. I was really pleased with the ride.”

Bred in Kentucky by Charming Syndicate, Omaha Beach was a $625,000 RNA from the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where he was consigned by Eaton Sales. He is the most recently registered foal out of his dam, who was bred to American Pharoah  for 2019.

Omaha Beach improved his record to 2-3-1 from six starts, with earnings of $521,800. He was awarded 37.5 qualifying points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate and now ranks seventh on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard—just behind Game Winner, who has 45 points. 

While Mandella said the next step for Omaha Beach will be determined in the future, Baffert told Fox Sports reporter Laffit Pincay that Game Winner will be pointed toward the April 6 Santa Anita Derby (G1) at the trainer’s home base. The California oval is expected to resume live racing March 29 after shutting down for two weeks to test the main track in the wake of 22 equine deaths that have occured during racing or training since the current meet opened Dec. 26.