HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (WHAS11) -- The winner of the Bob Baffert Invitational Stakes is Bob Baffert and this year's three year old California invader, Hoppertunity.
It was still listed as the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, the bugler played a few strains of Dixie, but at the finish line, a Baffert trained horse won for the fourth time in five years.
What a finish it was on a wet-fast sealed track with the mud flying and four horses battling down the stretch. With weary horses staggering in the mud, there was a lot of bumping. It took the stewards several minutes to finally decide the race would stand as it finished.
That placed Southwest Stakes winner Tapiture a half length behind the winner, and the determined Ride on Curlin in third. Fourth place Strong Mandate may have gotten the worst of the bumper cars finish, being hit from both sides.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Strong Mandate got roughed up pretty bad. Lukas says his horse hasn't been able to get a clean trip at any point in his career.
Hoppertunity, a fourth place finisher in the Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans, didn't exactly flatter the best three year olds in Arkansas, but there wasn't much difference in the first three finishers.
Strong Mandate led the field through 3/4s in 1:12.24. The final time for the mile and a 1/16th was 1:43.90. Perhaps the biggest negative in the race was the other California shipper, Kobe's Back. The John Sadler trainee was slow to start, blew the first turn and then ran rank for most of the race.
But it's Baffert's horse that will return to California with 50 Derby points, and a number of options, including the Arkansas Derby. Baffert says he'll make up his mind on the next race later. Hoppertunity is now second in the Derby points race. And Tapiture moves into 7th place with 42 points.
For the other two it's more of a challenge. Ride on Curlin has 15 points but he's always in the mix and certainly belongs with this group. Strong Mandate has just 11 points but I think he still has a chance to win and win big. Both need to hit the board in a big race in April.
Now many people will dig deeper into the potential of Hoppertunity, who is by Any Given Saturday. That's the Distorted Humor line, and as expected, Hoppertunity seemed to love the mud. His Dosage Index is 2.64 which fits the Derby profile to perfection.
Based on today's finish, none of the connections in the first four will quit the Derby trail, but for some, time and points are running short.
The hundred point Derby races start on March 29.