There are 11 prep races left at which horses can earn points to make the Kentucky Derby field. In reality it’s 10, because no horse exiting the UAE Derby in Dubai has ever done anything at the Kentucky Derby.
The next one is the Rebel at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. It is the most interesting prep so far because it’s the first with horses shipping in from other parts of the country.
The top three finishers from the Southwest at Oaklawn will return: winner Tapiture (9-5), runner-up Strong Mandate (2-1) and Ride On Curlin (12-1). Among others who will be joining them include shippers Kobe’s Back and Hoppertunity.
Kobe’s Back (7-2) was an overpowering winner of the San Vicente at Santa Anita Park. He is unproven around two turns, so this will be a key test for him. Trainer John Sadler also has Derby hopefuls in Candy Boy and Kristo, so he wants to keep the three of them apart.
Hoppertunity (10-1) was a troubled fourth in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. He’ll get a new rider in Mike Smith for trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert also has Bayern and Midnight Hawk as Derby prospects, so he, too, wants to keep them separated.
I suspect Strong Mandate will be the wise-guy horse for a simple reason. Tapiture won the Southwest by never leaving the rail, thus running the shortest way around.
Strong Mandate was easily five-wide around the first turn and just as wide around the far turn.
His ground loss under Joel Rosario must have had trainer D. Wayne Lukas shaking his head. A better trip could turn the tables.
If Kobe’s Back wins, it’ll improve the stock of the horses based at Santa Anita.
If Hoppertunity wins, it’ll make the three horses that finished in front of him in the Risen Star (Intense Holiday, Albano, Vicar’s In Trouble) look better.
In more Derby news, on Wednesday at Gulfstream, Social Inclusion destroyed Honor Code by 10 lengths in a track record, going 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.97. It was only his second career start, both easy wins.
Honor Code was making his first start since winning the Remsen on Nov. 30 at Aqueduct. He was washed out, balky at the gate and ran in spots. He still has one more start to make a better showing.
■ HORSEPLAYER WORLD SERIES — The Boyd Gaming Horseplayer World Series is scheduled for March 27 to 29 at The Orleans. It costs $1,000 to buy in. If that’s too much for your bankroll, get a silent partner. First prize is usually worth more than $300,000.
■ RICH TWIN QUINELLAS — Station Casinos will double its Twin Quinella to $10,000 on March 29; April 5, 12, 19 and 26; and May 2. Then on May 3, Kentucky Derby day, it will offer a $20,000 Twin Quinella.
■ NINIO WINS $463,219 — Las Vegas horseplayer Jack Ninio won $463,219 in the Fair Grounds Black Gold 5 on March 3. The Black Gold 5 offers a carry-over jackpot that is won when there is a single unique ticket. Ninio told the track publicity office his winning ticket cost $1,764.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him @richeng4propick on Twitter.