By Dick Downey
Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity was doing well Sunday morning and preparing to board a plane back to Southern California. The rest of the top finishers are also in good shape.
As per his custom, trainer Bob Baffert wouldn't commit to next race for Hoppertunity. Baffert nominates everywhere and sends horses to races when he deems them ready to roll.
“That was a really exciting race, there were four horses coming down to the wire together with all of that pushing and shoving,” said Baffert’s top assistant Jim Barnes, who traveled with Hoppertunity. “He came back just fine, no worse for the wear. It’s up to Bob if we come back with him for the Arkansas Derby.”
Runner-up Tapiture, the beaten 2-1 favorite, was also doing well Sunday morning, and trainer Steve Asmussen was firm about his plan.
“He came back good,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “He ate up good and he’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning, which was the big concern. He didn’t seem to mind (not winning) and he didn’t get his feelings hurt. I wish we would have won, but we still have him, and that’s a good thing. Coming back in the Arkansas Derby is definitely the plan. That’s why we’re here.”
For the second straight race, Ride On Curlin settled for third, but he was much closer than his Southwest Stakes finish.
“He came back great and is perfect this morning,” said trainer Billy Gowan. “He likes a fight, and he got one and he ran hard. We’ll just try to keep him sound and keep him moving forward for the Arkansas Derby. That’s the way it looks.”
Strong Mandate, the second betting choice in the Rebel, is still seeking his first win since last year’s Hopeful Stakes.
“He’s fine this morning and we’re looking forward to the next one,” said D. Wayne Lukas. “Hopefully, we’ll do better next time.”