Photo: Coady Photography
Strong contenders Strong Mandate and Tapiture, who have been stabled on the grounds this meet, continue to please their connections with just days remaining before Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, which will be the fourth time the two colts have faced each other dating back to a maiden special weight at Saratoga, which Strong Mandate won.
“Strong Mandate’s doing fine. He’s ready,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the 1984 edition of the race with stakes record holder Althea (1:46.4), the only filly to win the race, and with Tank’s Prospect the following year.
In the first start of his 3-year-old campaign, Robert Baker and William Mack’s Strong Mandate was second to Tapiture in the Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 14 and then was fourth in a roughly-run Rebel Stakes (G2) last time out Mar. 15.
“I hope he’ll get better racing luck this time and I think he has a little better conditioning now, too. I think he’s had a good thirty days so I’m looking for a much better effort from him,” Lukas said.
The $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) is one of the supporting stakes on the Arkansas Derby Day card on the closing day of the prestigious Racing Festival of the South and of the meet. He will saddle Grade 1 winner and reigning 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge in the race.
“He is doing absolutely super,” said Lukas. “He couldn’t be doing any better. I’m real pleased with where they both are. We’ve got pretty much everything behind us so it’s just keeping him and Strong Mandate happy now.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tapiture, second in the Rebel, is also right on schedule for trainer Steve Asmussen. In his final work for the Arkansas Derby on Apr. 7, he breezed a half mile in :50.4 under Abel Flores and over a sloppy track.
“He came out his work very nicely,” said Darren Fleming, Steve Asmussen’s Oaklawn-based assistant.. He ate up last night and he’s happy and healthy. He’s run two good races here and he seems to like it here. Hopefully, he’ll get a little smoother trip this time.”
Joel Rosario, who rode Strong Mandate in his last three starts, will be aboard Tapiture in the Derby while Luis Saez, the regular rider for Will Take Charge, picks up the mount on Strong Mandate for Lukas.
Tapiture is currently in 13th place with 42 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard and Strong Mandate is on the outside looking in for one of the 20 berths with 11 points and in the 27th spot. The Arkansas Derby is part of the championship series of qualifying races with 170 points (100-40-20-10) up for the taking.