With Hoppertunity’s win in the $600,000 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park over the weekend, trainer Bob Baffert and owner Mike Pegram now have two Kentucky Derby contenders well on their way to the Churchill Downs starting gate May 3.
The victory earned Hoppertunity 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, which when added to the five points he picked up for his fourth-place finish in the Feb. 22 Risen Star (G2), puts him in second place behind Samraat on the points leaderboard. Baffert also has Midnight Hawk, who finished second in last week’s San Felipe (G2), on the points leaderboard in 8th place with 32 points. Pegram owns both Hoppertunity and Midnight Hawk in partnership with separate ownership groups.
D. Wayne Lukas’s Strong Mandate, who finished second to Steve Asmussen’s Tapiture in the Southwest (G3) got to the lead early in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes to battle Ride On Curlin through much of the 1 1/16 mile race. As the field turned for home, Tapiture, with jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. aboard, and Hoppertunity, under jockey Mike Smith, emerged from mid-pack to join the leaders in a bumpy ride to the wire. Ride On Curlin and jockey Kent Desormeaux surged through on the rail to overtake Strong Mandate and grab the lead just as Tapiture and Hoppertunity fought it out on the outside of the pair. Quickly in tight quarters, Tapiture and Hoppertunity bumped their way to the wire first to draw a steward’s inquiry and jockey’s objection by Santana.
“We based our decision on the fact that Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. on Tapiture pushed his way out from behind the four horse (Strong Mandate) as the horses were straightening out into the stretch,” said Association Steward Larry Synder. “Jockey Mike Smith was just holding his position.”
"There was some bumping going on, but I was just holding my ground,” said Smith. “He'd already pushed me out to get out, which is fine because he was looking for racing room and I totally understand that. But, I wasn't just going to give him ground. I had to hold my ground at some point. And that's all I did. I held my ground and we bumped. It caused me to lay in and that caused me to tip.”
After several minutes the inquiry sign was removed and the order of finish remained unchanged. Hoppertunity finished a half-length in front of Tapiture, who was a half-length in front of Ride On Curlin. Strong Mandate was 1 ½ lengths farther back in fourth.
Having been bet down from a morning-line of 10-1 to 6-1 at post time, Hoppertunity was sent off as the fourth choice in the field of eight, with Tapiture and Strong Mandate sent off as co-favorites at odds of 2-1. Going into Saturday’s race, Hoppertunity had only a maiden win under his belt and was beaten seven lengths by Intense Holiday and Albano to finish fourth in the Risen Star (G2), his first stakes appearance. Unraced at age two, the Rebel wins brings Hoppertunity’s earnings to $410,720 in four starts.
Hoppertunity returned $14.20, $5.80, and $4.20. Tapiture paid $3.80 and $2.60 and completed the $2 exacta for $54.40. Ride On Curlin paid $4.60 and completed the $1 trifecta for $155.10. Strong Mandate completed the $1 superfecta for $383.70. The final time for the 1 1/16 mile race over the wet-fast dirt was 1:43.90.
Photo: Courtesy Oaklawn.com