The Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the qualifying process for horses on the road to Churchill Downs on May 3, has a good race going in Arkansas on Saturday. The Rebel Stakes has a number of contenders, and a possible Derby favorite.
Tapiture is the 9-5 favorite to win at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. Tapiture is currently ninth in qualifying points (the top 20 finishers are guaranteed access to the Derby) and even a top four finish will move him up the standings even further. Tapiture has a top trainer in Steve Asmussen and is a horse that I have my eye on for big things when it comes time for the Triple Crown. Saturday will give us some inkling as to whether that’s justified.
The Rebel Stakes is going to offer a quality field. Strong Mandate and Hoppertunity have each picked up points in the standings (a horse earns points with a top four finish in eligible races), and each has more work to do. Neither is in as good a position as Tapiture, something that should provide additional motivation for Saturday.
Of course I don’t mean to imply that psychological factors like motivation are going to affect the horse, but it will impact the thinking and strategy of the horse’s connections. Horses are like pitchers in baseball—they’re monitored carefully in terms of how much they’re stretched out. Strong Mandate and Hoppertunity are more likely to have jockeys ready to put the whip to them even if they’re slow out of the gate. Tapiture can be a little more cautious.
And Strong Mandate and Hoppertunity each have very good riders. The latter has the combination of Mike Smith in the saddle and Bob Baffert as the trainer, a combination that’s best in the West. Another good jockey who rides primarily in SoCal is Joel Rosario, and he’s aboard Strong Mandate.
All three horses—Tapiture, Strong Mandate and Hoppertunity—are priced in a way that no money is to be made from betting them to win, and even if you boxed a trifecta (a box being where they can finish in any order) it likely won’t be very lucrative. The best hope is the difficult challenge of calling these horses cold, in the exact 1-2-3 order of finish.
But that’s easier said than done, especially with a couple other horses possible threats to at least finish in the money. Kobe’s Back, obviously owned by a Los Angeles Lakers fan suffering from excessive optimism, is a 7-2 shot.
And a possible longshot would be Street Strategy at 8-1. The jockey in this case is Calvin Borel, whose gained fame for his success at Churchill Downs. Borel first built his reputation here at Oaklawn Park and mastering the move of falling back early, moving his horse to the inside rail and then thundering down the stretch. In football terms, Borel could be a nice home underdog.
Post time for the Rebel Stakes will be about 7 PM ET, and if you get HR-TV it will be televised.