The $300,000, Grade III Southwest Stakes for 3-year-olds highlighted a short but quality-filled Presidents Day program.
Tapiture, a Tapit colt making his first start of the year, raced with the leaders into the turn in the Southwest, then quickly opened a commanding lead and coasted home first by 4 lengths. The favorite, Strong Mandate, was carried extremely wide on the first turn, launched a bid heading for home but tired and bore out badly while finishing a clear second. It was another 6 lengths back to Ride on Curlin in third.
Tapiture, with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.95. He finished his 2-year-old season with a victory in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, adding to his luster as a potential Derby horse.
"It was a big step forward for him," winning trainer Steve Asmussen said. "I was impressed with what he did. I saw some things we need to improve and he'll have to continue to improve with the races coming up."
Strong Mandate also was starting for the first time as a 3-year-old. His juvenile career was highlighted by a victory in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga and an excellent third-place finish from an outside post position in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Strong Mandate was bumped at the start in Monday's race, costing him position. "The winner ran exceptional. We'll just go back to the barn and look at the [March 15] Rebel Stakes," Lukas said.
Billy Gowan, trainer of Ride On Curlin, said he also will contest the Rebel.
Tapiture's victory followed Saturday's win by Tamarando in the $200,000, Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields and Kobe's Back's triumph in the $200,000, Grade II San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.
Tapiture leads in Kentucky Derby qualifying points with wins in the Southwest and Kentucky Jockey Club and a third-place showing in the Iroquois.
The Southwest was the final race in the first phase of Derby preps, offering 10 points to the winner, 4 for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth. Next weekend kicks off the second part of the series with the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park and the Risen Star at Fair Grounds offering 50 points to the winner, 20 for second, 10 for third and 5 for fourth.
In other Presidents Day racing:
Bandbox rallied six-wide into the stretch in Monday's $250,000, Grade III General George Handicap, then quickly drew clear to win by 4 lengths over Tenango. Service for Ten finished third and the favorite, Palace, settled for fourth. Bandbox, a 6-year-old son of Tapit, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.13 with Xavier Perez in the irons for trainer Rodney Jenkins. He started his career in 2010 with three straight wins. Since then, he has won only twice in 11 tries. "The horse has had problems all of his life," Jenkins lamented. "He has run up on other horses and almost always had troubled trips and physical problems ... . We don't really have a plan for him after this race because our goal was to get the job done today."
Ilikecandy drew off late to win Monday's $100,000 Maryland Racing Media Stakes for fillies and mares by 7 lengths as the favorite. Malibu Red was the best of the rest and Lunar Surge finished third. Ilikecandy, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:53.91 under Alex Cintron.
Pontchatrain outfinished the favorite, Egg Drop, to win Monday's $200,000, Grade II Buena Vista Stakes by a length. Tapicat was third. Pontchatrain, a 4-year-old War Front Filly, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:33.33 with Gary Stevens aboard. She now has won four straight races, the last three of them graded stakes. "I just told Gary to ride her and be comfortable," winning trainer Tom Proctor said. "It looked like he was in a very comfortable spot." Asked about Pontchatrain's next start, he said, "Life's very short. You don't plan ahead."
Be Bullish ran by the favorite, Marriedtothemusic, a furlong out in Monday's $100,000 Hollie Hughes Stakes for New York-breds and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over that rival. Mine Over Matter finished third. Be Bullish, a 9-year-old Pure Prize gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the good inner track in 1:12.05 with Taylor Rice riding.
Golden Gate Fields
Zeewat rallied from well back and put a head in front of No Silent under the wire in Monday's $50,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes. Administer was third. Zeewat, a 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday colt, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.45 with Russell Baze in the irons.