Hoppertunity comes out on top in a barging match in the Rebel StakesPICTURE: Coady Photography
Hoppertunity strikes for Baffert in Rebel Stakes
Report: USA, Saturday
Oaklawn Park (Arkansas): Rebel Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo
HOPPERTUNITY (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) moved another significant step along the Kentucky Derby path with a narrow success after a barging match in a wild stretch drive for the Rebel Stakes, the main trial for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
In front of a bumper crowd of 30,873 at Oaklawn Park, 6-1 shot Hoppertunity scored by half a length to become trainer Bob Baffert's fourth winner of the $600,000 contest after Lookin At Lucky (2010), The Factor (2011) and Secret Circle (2012).
However, he also had to survive a lengthy stewards' inquiry after an objection from Ricardo Santana, rider of runner-up Tapiture, the 2-1 favourite who was boxed in for much of the stretch run on the wet-fast track.
Yet while Tapiture may be counted a bit unlucky not to have followed up his Southwest Stakes victory at the same venue, his jockey may consider that he was looking for a run where there wasn't one, and Hoppertunity certainly appeared to keep a straight line.
After the placings stayed the same, steward Larry Snyder issued a statement. "We based our decision on the fact that jockey Ricardo Santana jnr on Tapiture pushed his way out from behind the four horse [Strong Mandate] as the horses were straightening out into the stretch," he said. "Jockey Mike Smith was just holding his position."
Smith, as might be expected, suggested justice had prevailed. "There was some bumping going on, but I was just holding my ground," said the jockey.
"He'd already pushed me out to get out, which is fine because he was looking for racing room and I totally understand that. But I wasn't just going to give him ground. I had to hold my ground at some point and that's all I did. I held my ground and we bumped. It caused me to lay in and that caused me to tip. If anything I'd say 60-40, 60 on the inside 40 on the out."
Baffert is now looking for another Kentucky Derby prep race. "We'll give him another spin," he told the Daily Racing Form. "I don't know where he'll run next. He's definitely a Derby horse. We'll just get him home and decide what to do next."
Also on Saturday
Santa Anita: Santa Margarita Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+ f/m
Let Faith Arise (Jerry Hollendorfer/Corey Nakatani) stalked the pace before going on to record her first-ever Graded-stakes success impresssively - albeit in a race hardly worthy of its Grade 1 status.
Oaklawn Park: Azeri Stakes (Grade 3) 1m½f, dirt, 4yo+ f/m
Breeders' Cup Distaff runner-up Close Hatches (Bill Mott/Joel Rosario) went wire-to-wire on her seasonal debut, holding on by a length and a quarter from Magic Union.