Hoppertunity leads parade of Saturday stakes winners to Breeders’ Cup

ELMONT, N.Y. – At least three – and as many as five – winners of stakes races Saturday at Belmont Park will be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 4-5 at Santa Anita, their connections said

Hoppertunity, winner of the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, was expected to arrive in Southern California around 1:30 p.m. local time following a flight that left New York early Sunday morning.

Trainer Bob Baffert said Saturday night that Hoppertunity would point to the $6 million Classic. While Hoppertunity has been unable to beat probable Classic favorite California Chrome in two meetings this year “he always gets a piece,” Baffert said.

Hoppertunity earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory in the Gold Cup, his second career Grade 1 win. He also won the Clark in 2014.

Effinex, who finished second in the Gold Cup, will also move on to the Classic, Russell Cohen, the racing manager for his family’s Tri-Bone Stable, said Sunday morning. Effinex finished second to American Pharoah in last year’s Classic after finishing third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Standing outside Effinex’s Belmont Park stall Sunday morning, Cohen said, “He could run today. An absolute horse owner’s dream.”

Asked about facing California Chrome, Cohen said, “Look forward to meeting him.”

Cohen said he would like to get Effinex out to California “reasonably early.” The next Tex Sutton flight from New York to California is scheduled for Oct. 23.

Effinex is trained by Jimmy Jerkens, who also has Shaman Ghost pointed to the Classic.

Protonico, who was vanned off after finishing third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, was deemed sound Sunday morning by trainer Todd Pletcher. There are no specific plans for him.

Saturday was billed as “Super Saturday” and it certainly was that for trainer Chad Brown, who won all three graded stakes in which he participated at Belmont and one at Keeneland.

At Belmont, Brown won the Grade 1 Flower Bowl with Lady Eli, the Grade 1 Champagne with Practical Joke, and he ran 1-2-3 in the Grade 3 Hill Prince with Camelot Kitten, Beach Patrol, and Annals of Time. At Keeneland, Irish Jasper won the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America.

Lady Eli [Filly and Mare Turf] and Practical Joke [Juvenile] will move on to the Breeders’ Cup, as will Irish Jasper [Filly and Mare Sprint], who will ship back to New York first. Camelot Kitten and Beach Patrol will be aimed at the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on Dec. 3 at Del Mar. There are no set plans for Annals of Time.

Lady Eli was the feel-good story of the day, making it back to the winner’s circle after overcoming laminitis, which kept her away from the races for 14 months. She will make her next start in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita, where two years ago she won the juvenile Fillies Turf.

“It was a big relief really,” Brown said of Saturday’s win for which Lady Eli earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. “Just so proud of her; she came through for all of us once again, she’s just a remarkable horse. Just so happy for her having the opportunity to get out there competing and doing what she loves to do.”

Brown said he also plans to run Flower Bowl third-place finisher Sea Calisi in the Filly and Mare Turf. He expects her to “improve quite a bit off this race,” her first in two months.

Practical Joke prevailed by a nose over Syndergaard in a stirring stretch duel to win the Grade 1 Champagne, thus earning a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. However, since Practical Joke is not Breeders’ Cup nominated, his connections will have to pay a $100,000 supplemental nomination fee to run. Brown said Sunday that owners Seth Klarman and Bill Lawrence plan to do that.

Practical Joke won after breaking poorly. Brown has remarked several times that Practical Joke benefits from being mature mentally.

“The horse, he just trains ahead of his time mentally,” Brown said. “He’s a big, strong, quiet gentleman of a horse, he takes everything in. He’s very intelligent, nothing rattles this horse.”

Brown said Favorable Outcome, third, beaten 6 1/2 lengths in the Champagne, is also under consideration for the Juvenile. He felt the horse might have been too close to the hot early pace.

Pletcher said Syndergaard, who set fractions of 22.74 seconds for the quarter, 44.63 for the half, and 1:08.76 for six furlongs while being pressed by Big Gray Rocket, will be considered for the Juvenile pending conversations with owner Eric Fein.

“What I thought was impressive was that despite going insane fractions he dug in and fought hard and kept trying to the wire,” Pletcher said. “It would give you optimism that he could handle a little farther. He seemed to have bounced out of it well, was in good shape this morning, his energy level was good.”

Trainer Christophe Clement had himself a terrific day Saturday, winning the Grade 1 Frizette with Yellow Agate and the inaugural Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational with Pure Sensation.

Yellow Agate earned a fees-paid berth into the Juvenile Fillies, and Clement said he is likely to point her to that race but wanted to talk to Teo Ah King of the China Horse Club, which owns Yellow Agate, before committing.

“We don’t have to decide now,” Clement said.

Clement admitted that 1 1/16 miles around two turns is a question mark for Yellow Agate, a daughter of Gemologist who earned a 77 Beyer Speed Figure for the Frizette.

“The great news is she rates, so that makes it easier to go farther,” Clement said. “At the moment, I want to very much enjoy yesterday.”

Pure Sensation got up by a head over Power Alert to win the Belmont Sprint, his third consecutive graded stakes victory. Clement said he had “no clue” as to how Pure Sensation would handle the down-the-hill configuration of the BC Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, but the horse will be considered for the race.

Clement said Pure Sensation, is “good, he’s fast and he’s game, which are three things I kind of like in a horse.”

Anchor Down may have been the fastest horse to run Saturday as he won the Kelso Handicap by two lengths and ran a mile in 1:32.90. He earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure.

He will not, however, be considered for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Instead, he will be aimed at the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 26, Pletcher said.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said that Sentiero Italia, second in the Flower Bowl, and Tamarkuz, second in the Kelso, are being pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, respectively.

Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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