LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – East meets West on the Derby Trail this weekend in Arkansas.
The top three finishers from Oaklawn Park's Southwest Stakes will take on California shippers from the barns of Bob Baffert and John Sadler.
The invaders from the left coast better be on their best games to challenge favorites who have been training and racing at Oaklawn all winter.
Southwest winner Tapiture is the horse who came out of the winter layoff with a runaway performance defeating Wayne Lukas' Strong Mandate by four lengths.
Tapiture winds up with the high weight of 122 pounds while Strong Mandate gets in with 117. Lukas is hoping that his horse will improve for his second start of the year.
Meanwhile, the Wednesday plane from Santa Anita brought John Sadler's Kobe's Back. And we note that at least someone named Kobe in Los Angeles is still running this year.
Kobe's back won the San Vincente Stakes at 7 furlongs and his speed figures are comparable to Tapiture. But Tapiture posted his times at two turns at Oaklawn. Kobe's Back ships to a totally different track and his only race around two turns was a misadventure in the CashCall Futurity. He was tenth by 27 lengths.
Not to be overlooked is Hoppertunity, who was fourth in the Risen Star Stakes for Bob Baffert. Baffert has made the Rebel his own private Derby prep, winning three of the last four years. If you add Mike Smith to ride, you have a dangerous duo.
Then there's Ride on Curlin, who was third in the Southwest and needs a break-out race to advance to the Arkansas Derby. Trainer Billy Gowan gets the Curlin colt a new rider in Kent Desormeaux. And this causes a bit of intrigue.
Calvin Borel, who rode Ride on Curlin in his last two races, jumps to maiden winner Street Strategy, trained by Randy Morse. There may be a couple of things at work here. Borel rode the horse as a maiden winner on January 30. But the mile time was a very pedestrian 1:42:05. On the sentimental side, Borel rode the sire, Street Sense, when he won the Derby in 2007.
Allowance winner Sheltowee's Boy and 30-1 Jet Cat complete the field.
At the time of year when we're looking for comparisons from region to region, the two California invaders should challenge what appear to be the best three year olds running at Oaklawn.
And then there's the matter of 50 Derby points to the winner and a $600,000 purse. If Tapiture and Strong Mandate dominate on Saturday, they could be two horses that will still be dueling for Roses in May.
As always, I'll size up at the race results on Sunday and have a new Derby Top Twenty next week.