A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
The Breeders’ Cup World Championships are less than a month away, and the final “Win and You’re In” races are in the books. Every “Win and You’re In” race guaranteed the winner a spot in a particular Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita Park.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature we focus on Hoppertunity, winner of the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 8, who earned a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
A fan favorite, Hoppertunity has been on the racing scene since January 2014 of his 3-year-old year when he finished fifth behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern in his debut. In his second start, he broke his maiden by three lengths and from there has been a regular on the stakes scene.
Hoppertunity was fourth in his first stakes try, the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes before winning the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in Arkansas. Hoppertunity ran into another star in the making in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby when California Chrome ran away with the race by 5 ¼ lengths with Hoppertunity finishing second. Hoppertunity looked to be one of the favorites in that year’s Triple Crown but an injury only days before the Kentucky Derby forced him to miss the classics.
Returning in October of that year, Hoppertunity finished second in an allowance optional claiming race but it served as a steppingstone to bigger things. A month later, Hoppertunity won his first Grade 1 race when he beat Protonico by half a length to win the Clark Handicap under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
He followed with a win in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes in his first start as a 4-year-old before becoming a frustrating, but useful, runner for his connections.
The San Pasqual was the only win of the year for Hoppertunity but in his other eight starts, he never finished worse than fourth with six on-the-board finishes and $478,000 in earnings in those non-wins. Every one of the races was a graded stakes with Hoppertunity earning valuable Grade 1 placings in four of the starts.
This year has been a year of ups and downs for Hoppertunity. Finishing third behind California Chrome and Imperative in the San Pasqual, Hoppertunity beat Imperative by the slimmest margin – a nose – the following month in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes.
2016 SAN ANTONIO
Though he’d have to face California Chrome again, Bob Baffert loaded Hoppertunity on a plane to Dubai for the Dubai World Cup in March.
Like always, Hoppertunity earned owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman a nice paycheck when he finished third. With a $10-million purse, Hoppertunity netted a $1-million check to take his career earnings to nearly $3-million.
Returning to the track almost three months to the date of the World Cup, Hoppertunity put in his first off-the-board finish since the Pacific Classic the previous year when Hard Aces edged him out by a nose for third in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. He followed with another fourth-place finish against a star-studded field in the Pacific Classic two months later.
Hoppertunity was slated to run in the Awesome Again Stakes for his final Breeders’ Cup Classic prep but Baffert decided to skip the race and instead opted for the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York. With a field of five that looked easier than taking on the California males plus a $1-million purse compared with the $300,000 in the Awesome Again, the move was a smart one even before Hoppertunity won the race.
Hoppertunity raced second to last early on as Protonico and Effinex set the pace with the whole field separated by only about 2 ½ lengths. The early fractions in the 1 ¼-mile race were easy ones but as the field hit the far turn, the leaders sped up and Hoppertunity was asked to run by jockey John Velazquez.
In the stretch, Hoppertunity joined the battle for the lead with Effinex and Protonico but soon it was a duel between Hoppertunity and Effinex as they approached the finish line. Hoppertunity beat Effinex by half a length to take his earnings to more than $3.56 million with the $600,000 winner’s share of the purse.
2016 JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP
“The most important thing for ‘Hopper’ is that he was standing good and broke good and he was placed more forwardly in the race, especially on a slow pace, that’s probably why he was a little closer,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant trainer. “We always thought in our minds that he would like these big turns here, and this big, deep track where he would have a chance to come from behind. We didn’t want to run at home. This race is a mile and a quarter. You run in the Awesome Again, it’s a mile and an eighth. The horse wants distance - that was the main reason to come here.”
Hoppertunity is now going to the Breeders’ Cup Classic and, while I don’t think he’ll be able to win the race, I think he can finish in the top three.
With a horse like Arrogate in the race the pace will most likely be a semi-speedy one, which will suit Hoppertunity. Hoppertunity can obviously handle the 1 ¼-mile distance and has a nice enough closing kick that he should be able to put in a bid in the stretch. It seems like a big key with Hoppertunity is that he needs someone to be challenging him to run his best but that shouldn’t be a problem in a race like this one.
If California Chrome is on his A or B game, I don’t see Hoppertunity beating him, but right now the race doesn’t look to have many standouts behind California Chrome, especially if Frosted goes to the Las Vegas Dirt Mile. Hoppertunity obviously likes Santa Anita, he’s finished in the top three there nine times and should go off at decent odds, so it’s worth putting him on place and show tickets.
A $300,000 purchase by Bob Baffert at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale, Hoppertunity has paid back that price tag many times over.
Hoppertunity was the most expensive yearling sold at auction by Any Given Saturday in 2012, the same year his half-sister Executiveprivilege won two Grade 1s and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies for the same connections.
The winner of the 2007 Haskell Invitational Stakes, Any Given Saturday has produced 20 stakes winners and two champions in seven crops of racing. Outside of Hoppertunity, Any Given Saturday’s most well-known runner is probably last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday, who won his final 2016 Breeders’ Cup prep at Keeneland a few hours before Hoppertunity’s victory at Belmont.
Hoppertunity is out of the Grade 2-placed winner Refugee, who has 10 foals to race with eight winners. Hoppertunity and Executiveprivilege are her most successful runners but she is also the dam of stakes-placed winner Profit. Since their successes, Refugee has seen some of the top sires in the sport with a 2-year-old filly named Freedom by War Front, a yearling filly by Tapit who sold for $1.3-million last year and a weanling War Front colt.
Refugee is the most successful runner out of the Danzig mare Polish Maid, a daughter of 1979 champion 3-year-old filly Davona Dale. Davona Dale’s resume includes five Grade 1 wins during that championship year. Davona Dale never reproduced a runner on par with herself but did have three stakes-placed runners, including Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Le Voyageur by Seattle Slew.
Davona Dale’s half-sister Aly’s Adita did much better as a producer, producing Grade 1 Stephen Foster winner Seek Gold with other stakes winners out of Davona Dale’s half-sisters including Grade 1 winner Flying Snowdrop and Grade 2 winner Magic Gleam.
If you’re looking for a horse to beat California Chrome with in the Classic, Hoppertunity probably isn’t your guy. But if you’re trying to figure out who to put on your tickets for the other two spots in the top three, it’s worth giving Hoppertunity a long hard look before you go to the betting windows.