Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred Tapiture galloped onto the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with a dominant victory in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park, and looks to continue the journey March 15 in the $600,000 Rebel (gr. II).
The sophomore son of Tapit, trained by Steve Asmussen, went clear to a 4 1/4-length victory over fellow Rebel contender Strong Mandate in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest Feb. 17, his season debut off a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) Nov. 30. Now he'll face seven, including California invaders Kobe's Back and Hoppertunity, as the 122-pound highweight going the same distance from the 3 hole under regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr.
The top three from the Southwest will come back in this spot side-by-side in the starting gate around 6:04 p.m. CDT. Strong Mandate departs post 4 under jockey Joel Rosario carrying 117, and third-place finisher Ride On Curlin breaks from the 2 hole under 115, including Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux.
Strong Mandate, winner of the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) as a 2-year-old, ran a good second to Tapiture after going wide in his first start of 2014 for Hall of Fame horseman D. Wayne Lukas and owners Robert Baker and William Mack. The Tiznow colt was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to close out his juvenile season.
"This is round two and hopefully we'll move forward," Lukas said. "Hopefully he'll have a better trip than he did in the Southwest when he was compromised. It should be a good prep."
Allowance winner Ride On Curlin seeks his initial stakes victory for Daniel Dougherty and trainer Billy Gowan. By Curlin, he was also third last October in the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park behind Havana and Honor Code, and in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, and was fourth in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. II) back at Churchill. But both of his career victories have come at shorter distances, with the Jan. 12 allowance score prior to the Southwest run over six furlongs at Oaklawn.
Kobe's Back, trained by John Sadler for C R K Stable, won the Feb. 16 San Vincente Stakes (gr. II) at seven furlongs at Santa Anita Park with a powerful last-to-first rally for a 5 1/4-length victory. The Flatter colt has only one mark on his record of two wins and two seconds from five starts—a 10th in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) last year when he clipped heels on the backside in his two-turn debut. Jose Lezcano gets the mount from the outside; Kobe's Back carries 117.
Hoppertunity will attempt to keep up to his connections' high expectations in this spot, coming off a fourth in the Feb. 22 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II). The son of Any Given Saturday, a half brother to multiple grade I-winning filly Executiveprivilege, broke his maiden well for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Mike Pegram and partners in a Jan. 30 one-mile event at Santa Anita and made just his third start in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith ships in to ride from the 5 hole as part of a 115-pound impost.