Hoppertunity not only got the best of three other rivals in a close finish in Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, the bay colt also survived a stewards inquiry and jockey objection for interference in the stretch run to earn his first stakes victory.
Cairo Prince, the likely favorite for the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29, worked five furlongs Saturday morning in 1:00 4/5 at the Palm Meadows Training Center. Off since his authoritative display in the Holy Bull on January 25, the three-year-old went in company with elder stablemate Elnaawi and forged ahead in the final stages of the exercise.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, newly-named as a finalist for the 2014 class in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, was at Oaklawn Park on Friday morning to supervise final preparations for his charges competing in Saturday's three graded stakes, but it's $600,000 Rebel contender Tapiture who is generating the buzz.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confirmed on Thursday that his unbeaten champion two-year-old male Shared Belief would be skipping the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass on April 12 at Keeneland and is officially off the Kentucky Derby trail.
Joel Rosario, who rode General a Rod to a victory in the Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1, will be back aboard the three-year-old in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29, trainer Mike Maker confirmed on Friday.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey was encouraged with how Honor Code was doing on the morning after making his long-awaited three-year-old debut.
Racing for the first time since beating Cairo Prince by a nose in the Grade 2 Remsen on November 30, Honor Code was asked for run by jockey Javier Castellano after a half-mile to get into contention but never challenged Social Inclusion.
Following Social Inclusion's record-setting allowance victory at Gulfstream Park on Thursday, owner Ron Sanchez of Rontos Racing Stable is considering offers to purchase the three-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt.
Under a hand ride from jockey Luis Contreras, Social Inclusion romped by 10 lengths over the well-regarded Remsen winner Honor Code in 1:40.97 for 1 1/16 miles, eclipsing the track record of 1:41 set by Devil's Cave on February 16.
Constitution will make his stakes debut in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29. Unraced at two, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt has captured both starts this winter at Gulfstream Park.
"He's doing very well and we're planning to run him in the Florida Derby," Pletcher said. "It was really just a matter of picking out which race we were going to run in. I think he's been very impressive in both of his starts, so it was just a matter of trying to pick the correct Derby prep for him. This time of year they're all competitive."
Heavily favored Honor Code went down to defeat Wednesday at Gulfstream Park as Social Inclusion parlayed an uncontested lead into a track-record setting performance in a $61,500 open allowance for three-year-olds.
Speed dominated the scoring preps last weekend as California Chrome and Ring Weekend won convincingly.
California Chrome lit up the track in the San Felipe, drawing away impressively to a 7 1/4-length decision at Santa Anita. He posted the second-fastest winning time in the race's history (1 1/16 miles in 1:40.59) and earned a 102 BRIS Speed rating, the top figure in a Kentucky Derby points race this year. The California-bred colt was favored at 7-5 and led wire to wire for the first time in nine starts.
The first in a potential series of rubber matches between Tapiture and Strong Mandate is set to occur Saturday in the Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, a 1 1/16-mile prep for $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 12.
By Gary West, special to KentuckyDerby.com
Every year, for at least a week and sometimes two, the road to the Kentucky Derby seems to veer through Oz, not that monkeys start flying or lions talking, but just about everything that happens elicits a “Really?” or at least raises an eyebrow. Everything, in other words, moves the needle on the surprise meter. Well, this past week was that week.
The pressure is off Art Sherman. By earning 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby with California Chrome's dazzling victory in Saturday's Grade 2 San Felipe, the door to Louisville, Kentucky, and the Run for the Roses on May 3 was opened wide.
Honor Code, who will make his much-anticipated 2014 debut on Wednesday at Gulfstream Park, breezed four furlongs in :47 4/5 Sunday morning over the fast main track. Out of action since defeating Cairo Prince in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on November 30, the son of A.P. Indy schooled in the paddock Sunday afternoon, and will face four rivals in an 8 1/2-furlong allowance test on Wednesday.
Paul and Andrena Van Doren's Delta Jackpot winner Rise Up worked with blinkers on when he posted a four-furlong move in :48 1/5 on Mardi Gras morning, and 10-time Fair Grounds trainer champion Tom Amoss advised Saturday afternoon that his colt will have blinkers on for his next start, which has yet to be determined.
St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds' Ring Weekend grabbed the early lead and never looked back in Saturday's Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, springing the 14-1 upset in his first start outside of maiden company. Trained by Graham Motion and ridden by local ace Daniel Centeno, the Tapit gelding paid $30 to win and earned 50 points toward the Kentucky Derby.
Stabled at Los Alamitos, a hotbed of Quarter Horse-style speed for decades, the three-year-old California Chrome demonstrated his own Thoroughbred twist on early flash with an electric score in the Grade 2, $300,500 San Felipe at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Cairo Prince, likely favorite for the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 29, took another step toward the race with a half-mile work on Saturday.
Top Billing, one of the most celebrated prospects for the $1 million Florida Derby and Triple Crown, sustained an injury during a workout at Payson Park Saturday morning that has knocked the Shug McGaughey-trained colt off the Triple Crown Trail.
Remsen hero Honor Code, who had been mentioned as a candidate for the March 15 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, will instead make his reappearance in Wednesday's 8TH race at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky Derby hopeful will meet only four foes in the 1 1/16-mile allowance race, including flashy debut maiden winner Social Inclusion.