With Hoppertunity’s win in the $600,000 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park over the weekend, trainer Bob Baffert and owner Mike Pegram now have two Kentucky Derby contenders well on their way to the Churchill Downs starting gate May 3.
The victory earned Hoppertunity 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system, which when added to the five points he picked up for his fourth-place finish in the Feb. 22 Risen Star (G2), puts him in second place behind Samraat on the points leaderboard. Baffert also has Midnight Hawk, who finished second in last week’s San Felipe (G2), on the points leaderboard in 8th place with 32 points. Pegram owns both Hoppertunity and Midnight Hawk in partnership with separate ownership groups.
D. Wayne Lukas’s Strong Mandate, who finished second to Steve Asmussen’s Tapiture in the Southwest (G3) got to the lead early in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes to battle Ride On Curlin through much of the 1 1/16 mile race. As the field turned for home, Tapiture, with jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. aboard, and Hoppertunity, under jockey Mike Smith, emerged from mid-pack to join the leaders in a bumpy ride to the wire. Ride On Curlin and jockey Kent Desormeaux surged through on the rail to overtake Strong Mandate and grab the lead just as Tapiture and Hoppertunity fought it out on the outside of the pair. Quickly in tight quarters, Tapiture and Hoppertunity bumped their way to the wire first to draw a steward’s inquiry and jockey’s objection by Santana.