The Road to the Kentucky Derby makes its next stop in Hot Springs, Ark. for Saturday’s $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park. The race offers a total of 85 points to the top four finishers as part of Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby points system.
Under the system, the top four finishers in the 19-race “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” schedule of races are awarded 10-4-2-1 points, respectively. This “prep” portion of the schedule began in late September and concluded with the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18. The two-leg Kentucky Derby Championship Series began Feb. 23 and awards the top four finishers in the listed races 50-20-10-5 points, respectively for the first leg of eight races and 100-40-20-10 points accordingly for the second leg of seven races. A wild card, which includes the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland (Apr. 20) and the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs (Apr. 27) awards points of 20-8-4-2, respectively.
Headlining the field of eight 3-year-olds is Steve Asmussen’s Tapiture at a morning line of 9-5. In his last start, the Tapit colt won the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park Feb. 17 by 4 ¼ lengths over fellow Rebel contender Strong Mandate, who was six lengths in front of Ride On Curlin. Tapiture earned a Brisnet speed figure of 99 for the effort. His early running style suggests he’ll be on the lead early and may be able to set his own pace. Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. will be in the irons.
D. Wayne Lukas returns to Oaklawn Park with Strong Mandate. Making his sophomore debut in the Southwest after closing out his 2-year-old season with a third place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), this son of Tiznow is hoping for a better trip to cross the wire in front. At least five-wide through much of the Southwest, he was able to keep just off the front-runners and closed near the top of the stretch, but could not catch Tapiture. His downfall may have been how he drifted out in deep stretch once clear of traffic, which would have added distance to his path. Kentucky Derby winning jockey Joel Rosario retains the mount.
“This is round two and hopefully we’ll move forward,” said D. Wayne Lukas. “Hopefully he’ll have a better trip than he did in the Southwest when he was compromised. It should be a good prep.”
Set as a longshot at a morning-line of 10-1 is Bob Baffert’s Hoppertunity. It would be surprising if this son of Any Given Saturday goes off anywhere near odds of 10-1. Although beaten by seven lengths by Intense Holiday in the Risen Star Stakes (G2), Hoppertunity was impressive in defeat. In only his third career start, the deep-closing Hoppertunity overcame traffic issues that forced him out six-wide at the quarter-pole. He was seventh at the top of the stretch and weaved in and out of traffic to cross the wire in fourth. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be aboard for the Hall of Fame trainer.
“Hoppertunity is a nice colt, who is just developing,” said Baffert’s assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. “He’s lightly raced. Last time, it was unfortunate that he got shuffled back a little further than we wanted him to be. He was running at the end, but he had so much ground to make up that he needed to be another five or six lengths closer than he was. But, he handled it well, and we learned a little bit out of the race. He did show up.”
Another longshot worth mentioning is Street Strategy. The Randy Morse trainee comes in off a maiden win where he earned a Brisnet speed figure of 95. The grey/roan Street Sense colt lost his debut race by a nose only to come back and break his maiden by 6 ½ lengths. He’ll get the guidance of his daddy’s Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel, who knows the Oaklawn course as well as he knows Churchill’s. With others in the race more widely known on the Kentucky Derby trail, Street Strategy's odds will likely float up from his morning-line price of 8-1.
The field of eight from the rail out, with odds, is Jet Cat 30-1, Ride On Curlin 12-1, Tapiture 9-5, Strong Mandate 2-1, Hoppertunity 10-1, Sheltowee’s Boy 15-1, Street Strategy 8-1, and Kobe’s Back 7-2.
The race is the 10th race on Saturday’s Oaklawn Park card with a scheduled post time of 7:04 p.m. EDT. It can be seen on HRTV and TVG. Free PPs  provided by Brisnet.