HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 15, 2014—The running of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn Park wasn’t exactly what you would call a wild west rodeo, but it was pretty damn close.

The Oaklawn stewards got it right when they did not alter the first two placings in which Hoppertunity outfought Tapiture for a narrow, hard earned win.

The Rebel performances by both horses were highly creditable, each proving that he rates among the elite three year olds of 2014. Tapiture, highly rated in most polls going in, lost the photo but little of his stature.

In the race, Strong Mandate, the eventual fourth place finisher who figured to show more speed than he did in the Southwest, did so. Ride On Curlin, who had the worst of the Southwest wide trips, was committed to the pace after breaking sharply from an inside post.

While those two tested each other up front in cat-and-mouse style, Hoppertunity was sitting in perfect stalking position outside. His trip turned out to be the difference in the final result.

Meanwhile, sitting inside and near the fence, Ricardo Santana Jr., was loaded, waiting for time and opportunity to strike with Tapiture. That chance never came, so Santana made his own opportunity, coming out from behind horses trying to find running room.

What he did was understandable, but bumping a rival out of the way is not allowed. If you're in a jackpot, you're supposed to await a seam to open. But Tapiture got through and began his surge,

Hoppertunity proved a half-length the better horse. Strong Mandate was still hanging in between rivals, trying to re-rally as Hoppertunity continued to grind his way down the center of the wet-fast strip. It was a very dramatic finish, but one that left a bit of a sour taste.

First, one can only suppose what would have happened under dry conditions. That's the trouble with wet tracks; the results come with excuses built in.There was all that bumping going on but the first two finishers did prove they could handle a head to head fight.

What was hard to believe was that not only did Ride On Curlin not hold his ground, coming out to bump Strong Mandate, but under continued left-hand whipping by Kent Desormeaux, started a chain reaction that put Tapiture in very tight quarters, who by this time had secured room to run, but Hoppertunity was bothered, too, albeit to a lesser degree since he was outside.

Not taking punitive action against the first two finishers was the right thing to do. It was rough, but both horses had their chance to win and Hoppertunity was better on the day.

But I don’t understand how Ride On Curlin was not placed behind Strong Mandate.

Trying zealously to win is understandable. But horses are supposed to maintain a straight course. If they don’t, it’s on the rider to help the horse to do so.

Desormeaux never stopped whipping and driving while his mount continued to bear out; it was textbook careless riding.

The victory by Hoppertunity earned him 50 Derby qualifying points, punching his card to the big dance and giving trainer Bob Baffert a record fourth Rebel victory.

The win also strengthened Intense Holiday’s status, since he beat Hoppertunity at the Fair Grounds, and Cairo Prince’s, for defeating Intense Holiday at Gulfstream Park.

Resultantly, there were many shakeups in the Power 10. Honor Code dropped several slots with his second place finish in his season’s debut Wednesday, and Hoppertunity jumped from relative obscurity squarely into the middle of the Derby picture.

Suddenly Southern California-based sophomores occupy three of the top five slots—this week, anyway--and there were two dead heats among HRI’s top 11 Derby candidates..

Sitting on the sidelines had its usual effect, rewarding some while seldom diminishing the status of others. It’s how sports polls usually work: Nothing ventured, something gained.

HRI KENTUCKY DERBY POWER 10, Week 4:

1. Cairo Prince (36)
2. California Chrome (26)
3. Candy Boy (24)
4-tie Hoppertunity (19)
4-tie Intense Holiday (19)
6. Tapiture (18)
7. Samraat (12)
8. Honor Code (10)
9. Wildcat Red (9)
10-tie General A Rod (8)
10-tie Strong Mandate (8)