Southwest winner Tapiture can build on momentum in Rebel

awincze@herald-leader.comMarch 12, 2014 

Churchill Downs Horse Racing

Tapiture, ridden by jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., won the Kentucky Jockey Club Grade II Stakes race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 30, 2013. Churchill reported Wednesday that racing revenues for 2013 fell nine percent.

REED PALMER PHOTOGRAPHY — AP

  • Rebel Stakes

    THE RACE

    What: Kentucky Derby prep points race (50-20-10-5)

    When: 7:04 p.m. (EDT) Saturday

    Where: Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

    Distance: 11⁄16 miles

    Purse: $600,000 (Grade II)

    For: 3-year-olds

    TV: HRTV

    Radio: WLXO-FM 96.1

    THE FIELD

    PP Horse Jockey

    1 Jet Cat McKee

    2Ride On CurlinDesormeaux

    3 Tapiture Santana Jr.

    4 Strong Mandate Rosario

    5 Hoppertunity Smith

    6 Sheltowee's Boy Navarro

    7 Street Strategy Borel

    8 Kobe's Back Lezcano

David Fiske knew he was probably oversimplifying. But as the longtime racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds compared the best runners by the Winchells' top sire, Tapit, fancy language would have muddled the facts.

"They just like to run which maybe is too simplistic given that they're supposed to be racehorses," Fiske said. "But they just like to run and they're also really smart, I mean the better ones are."

The progression Tapiture has shown the past few months has made him his father's son in those respects. With back-to-back graded stakes victories, the Winchell family's homebred son of Tapit bears a large target as he heads a field of eight in Saturday's Grade II, $600,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

The reputation of Tapit — who stands at Gainesway Farm — as one of the industry's velvet-rope level stallions is being hammered home on this 2014 Kentucky Derby trail. His unbeaten son Constitution has emerged as a leading contender for the Grade I Florida Derby while another son, Ring Weekend, captured the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby last Saturday.

The Winchells and Fiske are banking on Tapiture being the best of his sire's current lot. After dropping his first three career starts, the chestnut Steve Asmussen-trainee has been unbeaten since stretching out to two turns, winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes going 11⁄16 miles at Churchill Downs last November and then romping to a 41/4-length victory when he made his season debut in the Grade III Southwest Stakes over the same distance at Oaklawn on Feb. 17.

"We were really pretty confident going into the Southwest," said Fiske, who has worked for the Winchell family for more than 30 years. "He had been training as well as we'd seen him train. We always thought he was a good horse, he just got a little out of sequence with some of his races last fall.

"He was supposed to win the (maiden) race before the Kentucky Jockey Club. We thought a one-turn mile would be right up his ally but it turns out he likes to go around two turns better."

Even though Tapiture broke his maiden against graded stakes foes, not everyone was sold on the quality of the field he defeated that evening.

Such was not the case in the aftermath of the Southwest Stakes. Despite being more on the bridle than normal and drifting out during the stretch run, Tapiture easily fended off Grade I winner Strong Mandate when that one attempted his rally after breaking a step slow.

That Tapiture was a little fresh in his first outing since late November yet was still able to sit just off an opening half in :47.92 was another check in his favor.

"His speed and his ability to stay up close to the pace and his ability to relax. Those qualities will serve him well in the future," Fiske said. "I think he was maybe a little more keyed up in the Southwest just because he had been away for a little while. But it probably served him well, being that he was down in the No. 1 post. If he had broken half a step slow, he probably would not have won."

Tapiture should be in an ideal spot Saturday, having drawn post-position No. 3. Strong Mandate, winner of the Grade I Hopeful Stakes last September and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, will be directly outside him in post No. 4 with Grade II San Vicente winner Kobe's Back in the outside No. 8 spot.

Tapiture is by the nation's hottest stallion, and his trainer, Asmussen, was announced as a finalist for the Racing Hall of Fame last week. Should Tapiture maintain his momentum, it will continue to elevate all around him.

"Sure we'd like him to win (this weekend), but it's a horse race and anything can happen," Fiske said. "I just want him to run well and come back good and keep moving forward."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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