Before it was a future winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and a soon-to-be Triple Crown legend. On Saturday it was a last-out maiden winner. No matter what type of three-year-old Bob Baffert sends to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel (G2), he goes to win.
For the sixth time in the past seven years, the Hall of Fame trainer had reason to celebrate following the leading Arkansas Derby (G1) prelude when Cupid registered a wire-to-wire, stakes debut win in the 1 1/16-mile prep, worth $900,000.
Sporting the dark blue silks of Mrs. John Magnier, who co-owns the colt with fellow Coolmore connections Michael Tabor and Derek Smith, Cupid was rushed to the front by Martin Garcia after a slightly tardy beginning. The whitish gray son of Tapit set an opening quarter of :22.96 while under some early pressure from Siding Spring, but opened up a little bit on that one down the backside while setting internal splits of :46.82 and 1:12.11.
Looking strong turning for home, Cupid soon had to brace for a huge challenge from third choice Whitmore, who made a strong rush for the lead and almost looked poised to get past the long-time leader. However, Cupid gamely repelled that surge and opened up again late to win by 1 1/4 lengths and paid $7.80 as the 5-2 second choice.
“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. Hhe 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 final time of 1:43.84 on a fast track compares quite favorably with those posted in the Azeri (G2) for fillies and mares and the Razorback H. (G3) for older horses earlier in the card. In the Azeri, Call Pat edged champion Untapable in 1:44.44, while the four-year-old Upstart captured the Razorback in 1:44.12.
Whitmore, who was also second in last month’s Southwest (G3), turned in another stellar effort and was easily best of the rest. Finishing third after closing from last in the field of 14 was last-out maiden winner Creator, another son of Tapit who was part of a Steve Asmussen-trained entry. Cherry Wine, making his stakes debut for Dale Romans, finished fourth.
Among the also-rans was Southwest winner and 5-2 favorite Suddenbreakingnews, who finished fifth, and last year’s Hopeful (G1) winner Ralis, who was 10th in his season debut.
Cupid earned 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby (G1) with the win. Whitmore earned 20 points, Creator 10 points, and Cherry Wine five points.
As mentioned, this was Baffert’s sixth Rebel this decade. He previously won with Lookin at Lucky (2010), The Factor (2011), Secret Circle (2012), Hoppertunity (2014), and American Pharoah (2015).
Fourth and second in two maiden sprint attempts and Los Alamitos and Santa Anita, respectively, to start his career, Cupid improved dramatically in his two-turn debut February 7. Fourth early in the 1 1/16-mile event at Santa Anita, Cupid edged closer around the far turn, seized control more than a furlong out and won by 5 1/4 lengths. He’s now earned $587,500.
Bred in Kentucky by JKG Thoroughbreds, Cupid was a $900,000 Keeneland September purchase. He was reared by the Grade 2-placed Pretty ‘n Smart, a daughter of Beau Genius who has also raised Grade 3 winners Heart Ashley and Ashley’s Kitty, and the stakes-winning Indianapolis.