Pegram, Watson and Weitman’s Hoppertunity proved exactly why he’s a big fan favorite on Saturday with an impressive last-to-first victory in the $300,000 San Antonio Stakes (GI) at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Any Given Saturday earned $180,000 for his latest graded stakes win to bring his bankroll to $4,066,425 and his career line to 25-7-6-4.
Under jockey Flavien Prat, Hoppertunity broke well from the gate, but was taken back to hug the rail and let the speed go in front of him. Longshot El Huerfano led the way through honest splits of :23.18, :46.30 and 1:10.30 with Avanti Bello and Mor Spirit stalking to each side of him. The eventual winner was content to hang back and wait for the right time to make his move and, as he made his way around the final bend, was at full throttle while widest of all, picking off his tiring rivals in front of him one by one with every stride.
As the leaders straightened out for the drive, Prat asked Hoppertunity for his all and he gave it, digging in for the lengthy stretch drive out toward the center of the track, reaching striking distance of stablemate Mor Spirit, who briefly put his head in front in mid-stretch in time to log a mile in 1:36.18. Under a vigorous ride and determined run, however, his lead was short-lived, as Hoppertunity passed his battling stablemate a few jumps before the wire and drew away to the one-length victory, stopping the clock in 1:42.55 for the 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track.
Mor Spirit held on to second and was another three-quarters of a length in front of Accelerate, El Huerfano, Hard Aces, Dalmore and Avanti Bello.
At second-choice odds of 5-2, Hoppertunity paid $7, $3.40 and $2.20. Favored Mor Spirit was worth $3.40 and $2.40, completing the $10.70 exacta. Accelerate was good for $2.20 at odds of 5-2 and the $1 trifecta returned $22.10.
“Everyone knows this horse,” Prat said of his popular mount. “He ran a great race. I think he may be better than he was last year. He seems better.
“He’s always slow out of the gate, he’ll never be fast and he likes to come form off the pace. Once he starts running you just have to let him run and do his thing. The worst part for me is the first part of the race because I have to ask him. But then he just takes you to the wire.”
Now six years old, Hoppertunity was bred in Kentucky by Betz, Betz, Kidder, Robenalt and D. J. Stable and was purchased by Baffert for $300,000 as a Keeneland yearling in 2012. He had the unfortunate fate of being born in a time period of racing that has seen standouts American Pharoah, California Chrome and also current stablemate Arrogate, but he’s managed to carve out a nice record for himself regardless, with wins in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and the 2014 Clark Handicap (GI), in addition to three other graded stakes, including last year’s San Antonio. He’s also placed in seven others, including last year’s Dubai World Cup (GI).
“He was training really, really well for this,” Baffert said. “It’s like the best I’ve ever seen him train. Prat worked him the other day and the track was really fast. He went :10 4/5 (Jan. 30). I was afraid they went too fast but they were doing it the right way.
“I was really happy about Mor Spirit. I thought for sure turning for home he was going to win it. But Hoppertunity, he just grinded it out, came running and I’m happy for the owners Pegram, Watson and Weitman team. This horse has been a lot of fun for them, there’s nothing like having a good horse. That’s why we’re in the business, so as long as he’s doing well we’ll go to Dubai (World Cup, grade 1 on March 25) and see if we can get another win.
“This horse has made so much money just picking up here and there. I don’t know what I’m going to do with Mor Spirit, we’re going to play it by ear. But today was a good race for him, He was part of that pace up front and they going pretty fast. I think he’ll move forward because he’s a big, heavy horse. He did a lot of running early and he got beat by a grade 1 horse that’s made $4 million. It was a good race.”