Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith’s royally-bred Cupid showed his love for the Oaklawn Park track on Saturday, taking the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (GII) in impressive wire-to-wire fashion over a field of 13 talented rivals. The gray son of Tapit, who was purchased for $900,000 as a Keeneland September yearling 18 months ago, picked up his first career stakes victory in the Rebel and stamped himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby (GI) contender with just seven weeks left until the Run for the Roses.
Under regular jockey Martin Garcia, the gray son of Tapit led at every call through quick early splits of :22.96, :46.82 and 1:12.11 and, despite ducking in awkwardly toward the rail and taking a strange step when switching leads at the top of the stretch, he was able to set the one-mile split in 1:37.65 and handily hold off the late challenge of a fast-closing Whitmore under a strong ride to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:43.84 over the fast Oaklawn park track.
As the public’s near 3-1 second choice, Cupid returned $7.80, $5.00 and $3.80. Whitmore was worth $5.20 and $4 at odds of 4-1. Creator, who was part of the 8-1 entry with stablemate Madtap, finished another 1 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up and paid $4.80 to show. The exacta was good for $45.80 and the trifecta paid $118.50.
Cherry Wine, the favored Suddenbreakingnews, Gray Sky, Discreetness, Cutacorner, Spikes Shirl, Ralis, Z Royal, Madtap, American Dubai and Siding Spring rounded out the order of finish.
“It’s hard for horses to break their maiden and then step up to this kind of company with this many people around and win, but he did,” Garcia said. “He’s still green. When we hit the top of the stretch, he got lonely and he locked in on the other horse that was coming up on the outside he responded one more time. He showed a lot of ability and we know he can run. He really proved today that he is improving. The distance doesn’t matter; he can go as far as he wants.”
Cupid’s win on Saturday marked the sixth victory in seven years in the Rebel for trainer Bob Baffert, who tightened the girth on American Pharoah last year before the colt went on to win the coveted Triple Crown. Cupid got a late start on this year’s Triple Crown trail, faltering in his first two sprint starts before romping by 5 1/4 lengths to break his maiden at Santa Anita around two turns nearly six weeks ago. He was entered in last week’s San Felipe Stakes (GII) and was slated to run in the rich Sunland Park Derby, but was pulled from consideration from the latter event in favor of the Rebel after the New Mexico track had to cancel its signature Derby prep race following a now-contained outbreak of equine herpes virus.
“I am so happy that he ran so well, especially for Martin,” Baffert said. “He works so hard getting these horses ready and he got the win. I’m happy for the Coolmore [owners] gang, too. I knew going in he was a nice horse. But he never had been tested and that was a pretty strong bunch.”
As usual for any Baffert trainee, Cupid will return to Baffert’s Southern California base in a day or so and likely ship back to Arkansas to contest the April 16 $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI).
“We’ll bring him back here, as long as he doesn’t get light on us,” Baffert said. “He likes a little time in between his races. I’m just really happy.”
Cupid picked up a fat $540,000 for his initial graded win and his career totals now stand at 4-2-1-0, $587,500. He also picked up 50 valuable points to ensure he’ll likely make the gate for the Derby should his connections choose to enter.