Southwest Stakes (G3) winner Tapiture and runner-up Strong Mandate renew their rivalry Saturday in the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) as each colt looks to solidify their position as a leading Kentucky Derby hopeful. The Rebel, which is slated as the 10th of 11 live races at 6:04 p.m., drew a field of eight for the 1 1/16-mile race, the last local prep before the $1 million Arkansas Derby April 12 and subsequent Triple Crown races.
Winchell Thoroughbredsâ€™ homebred Tapiture ended his juvenile campaign by breaking his maiden when winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill by 4 Â¼ lengths Nov. 30 and picked his winning ways right back up when he made his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest and won by the exact same margin. He tuned up for the Rebel with an easy half-mile workout in :50 1/5 Monday and will be reunited with regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr. With five more weeks remaining in the meet, Santana Jr. has already won six stakes, including four for Tapitureâ€™s trainer Steve Asmussen.
â€œWeâ€™re excited about the horse he is and his chances,â€ Asmussen said Wednesday morning.
Robert Baker and William Mackâ€™s Strong Mandate will be looking to turn the tables in the Rebel after having to fight traffic and a wide trip in the Southwest. He too was making his seasonal debut after closing out his 2-year-old season with a third in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile (G1). Early in his career, he actually beat Tapiture when breaking his maiden at Saratoga last August and then returned one race later to win the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. He races for the same connections as Dublin, third in both the 2010 Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Jockey Joel Rosario, winner of last yearâ€™s Derby aboard Orb, returns for the mount.
â€œThis is round two and hopefully weâ€™ll move forward,â€ Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. â€œHopefully heâ€™ll have a better trip than he did in the Southwest when he was compromised. It should be a good prep.â€
Hoping to knock off the top two, while also picking up the 50 Kentucky Derby points allotted to the winner, are two California shippers and Southwest Stakes third-place finisher Ride On Curlin. San Vincente Stakes (G2) winner Kobeâ€™s Back from the barn of John Sadler and Risen Star Stakes (G2) fourth-place finisher Hoppertunity from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert arrived from California Wednesday morning.
Ride On Curlin, who won his 3-year-old debut at Oaklawn July 12 against allowance company, picks up a new jockey in three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux. Jockey Calvin Borel, aboard Ride On Curlin for his last two starts, has elected to ride impressive maiden winner Street Strategy, a son of his 2007 Kentucky Derby winning-mount Street Sense. Longshots Sheltoweeâ€™s Boy and Jet Cat round out the field.
The complete field for the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2), in post position order, with riders: Jet Cat, John McKee; Ride on Curlin, Kent Desormeaux; Tapiture, Ricardo Santana Jr.; Strong Mandate, Joel Rosario; Hoppertunity, Mike Smith; Sheltoweeâ€™s Boy, Joshua Navarro; Street Strategy, Calvin Borel, and Kobeâ€™s Back, Jose Lezcano.
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