Revenge was sweet but victory was sweeter for Taptiure, who stormed home a dominating winner of his three-year-old debut in Monday's Grade 3, $300,000 Southwest at Oaklawn Park.
Making his first start since a maiden-breaking win in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on November 30, Tapiture hugged the rail while rating close to the pace, eased into the lead after six furlongs, and then turned on the afterburners down the stretch to defeat even-money favorite Strong Mandate by 4 1/4 lengths. In doing so, Tapiture reversed the order of finish and nearly the entire margin by which Strong Mandate beat him in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden event at Saratoga last August.
Guided by Ricardo Santana Jr., Tapiture completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 4/5 and paid $13 as the 5-1 second choice in a field of 12.
No more than a half-length behind Tanzanite Cat, who traded leads with Ride On Curlin through splits of :23 2/5 and :47 4/5, Tapiture enjoyed an ideal trip while setting the six-furlong fraction in 1:13. In contrast, Hopeful winner Strong Mandate endured a four-wide journey around the first turn, remained well off the rail down the backside and was five wide entering the stretch. Nonetheless, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee ran a solid second, six lengths to the good of 8-1 fifth choice Ride On Curlin.
Completing the order of finish were Coastline, Tanzanite Cat, Bourbonize, Walt, Fire Starter, Son of Dixie, Paganol, Kendall's Boy, and Louies Flower.
"It was a big step forward for him. I was impressed with what he did," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who trains the chestnut son of Tapit for owner-breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds. "I saw some things we need to improve and he'll have to continue to improve with the races coming up. I think the series sets up really well for him."
Oaklawn's road to the Triple Crown continues with the $600,000 Rebel on March 15 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 12.
Strong Mandate is also likely to move on to the Rebel, according to Lukas.
"He ran well. He didn't have the cleanest of trips," Lukas said. "We had wanted to be more forwardly placed, but he got bumped leaving the gate and was actually wide the whole trip. The winner ran exceptional. We'll just go back to the barn and look at the Rebel Stakes."
Second to Strong Mandate in that Saratoga debut, Tapiture missed by a half-length in his graded debut in the Iroquois at Churchill Downs the following month. The chestnut went back up against maidens on October 27 but lost the lead in the stretch to Culprit and had to settle for third. He then rebounded in the Kentucky Jockey Club, romping to a 4 1/4-length score. His record now stands at 5-2-1-2, $320,838.
The Kentucky-bred Tapiture is out of the winning Olympio mare Free Spin, making him a full brother to stakes heroine Remit and Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Retap. His female family also boasts multiple stakes diva Debs Angel as well as Grade 2 victor Good Bid.