The “Road To The Kentucky Derby” travels to Hot Springs, Arkansas Saturday where a field of only eight young Thoroughbreds will go to the starting gate in the 54th running of the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park race track. Tapiture, currently ranked ninth on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, has been selected as the 9-5 morning line favorite.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Tapiture has never finished worse than third and he comes into the Rebel (G2) with a 2-1-2 record in five starts, including a 4¼-length win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs last November and a 4¼-length win in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park in February.
Tapiture has been working out good at Oaklawn Park and looks like the horse to beat in the Rebel.
Strong Mandate, the morning line 2-1 second choice, comes into this race with a 2-1-1 record in six starts, including a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park last November and a second-place finish to Tapiture in the Southwest Stakes (G2) last month.
I look for Strong Mandate to be competitive in this race but he’ll have to improve off of his performance in the Southwest Stakes (G3) if he is going to turn the tables on Tapiture.
Trainer John Sadler ships Kobe’s Back (7-2) in from California in hopes of earning 50 precious Derby points for the owners C R K Stables. Kobe’s back comes into this race with a 2-1-0 record in four starts, including a 5¼-length win in the 7-furlong San Vicente Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park in February.
Kobe’s Back has yet to win an 8½ furlong stakes race and his only attempt to accomplish that was a 10th-place finish in the CashCall Futurity (G1) at Betfair Hollywood Park last December. However, Kobe’s Back has the breeding to handle the stretch out in distance.
Flatter, the sire of Kobe’s Back, was a decent middle-distance horse who competed, mostly, in maiden and allowance races and in his only stakes start he finished third in the 8½-furlong Washington Park Handicap (G2). But in six starts, Flatter compiled a 4-0-1 record and was a winner from 7½-furlongs to 9-furlongs.
Well Decorated, the damsire of Kobe’s Back, was a multiple graded-stakes winner who compiled a 6-4-2 record in 16 starts. Well Decorated was competitive mostly in sprints but he was able to carry his speed to a second-place finish in the 9-furlong Flamingo Stakes (G1).
A recent bullet work out at Santa Anita Park could have Kobe’s Back ready to run a good race and I look for him to be competitive.
Another west-coast invader is Hoppertunity (10-1) who ships in from California for Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert and owners Karl Watson, Michael Pegram and Paul Weitman.
The Rebel will be the second start in stakes competition for Hoppertunity who, in his last race, finished fourth in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at the Fair Grounds Race Course. Hoppertunity comes into the Rebel (G2) with a 1-0-0 record in three starts and to be competitive, he’ll need to return to the form of his maiden win at Santa Anita in January where he ran a mile in the decent time of 1:36.94.
Baffert makes a jockey switch to Mike Smith who’s won the Rebel three times and is tied with Pat Day and Larry Snyder for the most jockey wins.
In recent years Baffert had good fortune in the Rebel with victories by Lookin at Lucky (2010), The Factor (2011) and Secret Circle 2012). However, Hoppertunity is not, yet, of the same caliber as those horses when they competed in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and he’ll have to improve his game if he is going to be competitive on the Derby Trail.
Under the new scoring system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine eligibility for horses to enter the Derby starting gate, the winner of the Rebel Stakes (G2) will receive 50 points while second-place will yield 20 points, the third-place finisher will receive 10 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive 5 points. Here’s a look at the current top 20 list:
2014 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Samraat, 60, Rick Violette, Jr., $450,000
2. Intense Holiday, 53, Todd Pletcher, $327,500
3. Wildcat Red, 50, Jose Garrofalo, $410,000
4. Ring Weekend, 50, Graham Motion, $210,000
5. California Chrome, 50, Art Sherman, $182,250
6. Midnight Hawk, 32, Bob Baffert, $144,000
7. Albano, 24, Larry Jones, $150,000
7. Uncle Sigh, 24, Gary Contessa, $150,000
9. Tapiture, 22, Steve Asmussen, $300,738
10. Vinceremos, 20, Todd Pletcher, $190,000
11. Vicar’s in Trouble, 20, Mike Maker, $160,000
12. General A Rod, 20, Mike Maker, $140,000
13. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
14. Cairo Prince, 14, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $470,000
15. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
16. Kristo, 14, John Sadler, $56,000
17. Tamarando, 12, Jerry Hollendorfer, $490,000
18. Bond Holder, 11, Doug O’Neill, $333,000
19. Rise Up, 10, Tom Amoss, $786,633
20. We Miss Artie, 10, Todd Pletcher, $242,000