Photo: Terri Cage
With four horses coming together at the eighth pole, it promised to be an exciting finish to this afternoon’s $600,000 Rebel Stakes. Race fans got that exciting finish, as the lightly raced Hoppertunity edged race favorite Tapiture by a half-length, but what they didn’t see, was a cleanly run race.
First, Ride On Curlin on the inside, came out into Strong Mandate, pushing that one out into Tapiture and Hoppertunity. The latter responded by leaning back into Tapiture, meaning that the four horses were all squeezed into a space barely large enough for three. Despite the bumping, the two with the most momentum were able to go on with it, and Hoppertunity held the unlucky Tapiture at bay to earn a tough victory in the 2014 Kentucky Derby prep.
Up until the late stages, Hoppertunity got a great trip under his Hall of Fame partner, Mike Smith. Donning the familiar red and yellow silks of Mike Pegram, he stalked the pacesetting pair of Strong Mandate and Ride On Curlin through fractions of :24.06 and :47.97, and pounced on the two on the far turn. Meanwhile, Tapiture was on the inside, full of horse, but needing room to run.
Tapiture kept coming and forced his way through a small opening between Strong Mandate to his inside, and Hoppertunity on the outside. Eventually he found room for himself, but not before taking the worst of the four-way battle royale. Once clear, he did have the opportunity to overtake Hoppertunity, but the winner proved resolute in the Grade 2 affair.
A post-race inquiry, and jockey objection, would not change the finish order. Ride On Curlin stayed on gamely for third, beaten only one-length, while the second choice, Strong Mandate was another length-and-a-half farther back in fourth.
Not surprisingly, the winning connections were pleased with the performance.
"That was exciting. Wow. I saw what happened in the race live and I was saying to myself, that kid (Santana, Jr. on Tapiture) is trying to push us out of the way to get by, said Bob Baffert’s assistant trainer, Jimmy Barnes. “We had enough horse that he wasn't getting by. Mike (Smith) said he just started running when he got bumped. That just made him run faster. He's tough. He's lightly raced. That was only his fourth race so that was exciting and I'm glad we came. Whether we come back for the Arkansas Derby is up to Bob."
Overlooked at 6-1 after a troubled 4th place finish in the Risen Star Stakes last time, Hoppertunity returned $14.20 to his happy backers. The final time for the 1 1/16 mile Rebel was 1:43.90, over a track labeled wet-fast after race day rains.
The winner is a bay son of Any Given Saturday. Out of the Unaccounted For mare, Refugee, Hoppertunity is a half-brother to the recently retired, multiple grade 1 winner, Executiveprivilege. With the win, he raised his record to two wins in four starts for owners, Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. This victory also earned his trainer Bob Baffert, his fourth victory in the Rebel in the last five runnings.
Today, Hoppertunity took a big step forward towards the first Saturday in May, in his quest of breaking the 132-year-old streak of no horse winning the Kentucky Derby, without racing as a juvenile, since Apollo in 1882.