Four years ago this weekend, an up-and-coming three-year-old by the name of Hoppertunity was a barnstorming second to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Fast forward to Sunday, and the seven-year-old Hoppertunity is still going strong. After helping to get young stable star Justify ready for his Santa Anita Derby conquest, the multiple Grade 1 veteran outclassed five rivals in the $100,345 Tokyo City Cup (G3) and padded his bankroll to $4,407,025.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert found a soft spot for Hoppertunity’s comeback, enabling him to get a win on the board for the first time since last February’s San Antonio (G2). He’d since finished sixth in the Dubai World Cup (G1) behind Arrogate, second in Santa Anita’s Comma to the Top off a seven-month layoff, third in the Clark H. (G1), and fourth in the San Antonio that was moved to the December 26 opening-day card. Reportedly forced to miss the February 3 San Pasqual (G2) due to foot trouble, Hoppertunity was a late scratch from the Santa Anita H. (G1) after the track came up “wet-fast,” and Baffert decided not to ship for another Dubai World Cup tilt.
The Tokyo City Cup marked his first try at 1 1/2 miles, and the 1-5 favorite treated it like a bit of match practice. Well handled by Flavien Prat, Hoppertunity was allowed to settle into stride as Beaumarchais and Infobedad were a little too energetic through splits of :24.64 and :48.77. The pace finally began to slacken at the six-furlong split in 1:14.42, but the leaders were about to pay the price.
Hoppertunity smoothly advanced on the clubhouse turn, cruised up to Beaumarchais’s flank at the mile mark in 1:40.77, and blew the race apart in short order. Widening his margin at every call, Hoppertunity crossed the wire 6 1/2 lengths clear in a final time of 2:32.63.
Track announcer Michael Wrona summed it up:
“Well if Hoppertunity needed a confidence-builder, he’ll be positively thumping his chest over this performance…”
Twentytwentyvision, last early, also made good headway and tried valiantly to pursue Hoppertunity. But the odds-on choice was simply too strong, and Twentytwentyvision settled for best of the rest by 5 1/4 lengths. Moonman took third, followed by Noble Nick and the eased Beaumarchais. Infobedad was eased before reaching the homestretch and walked off.
Hoppertunity improved his scorecard to 30-8-7-5 for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman. Seven of those wins have come in graded stakes, including the 2014 Clark and Rebel (G2), 2015 San Pasqual, 2016 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), and the 2016-17 editions of the San Antonio. He’s amassed 11 stakes placings, perhaps most memorably the 2016 Dubai World Cup and his near-miss in the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) in addition to the Santa Anita Derby.
Bred by Betz/DJ Stable/Kidder/J. Betz/Robenalt in Kentucky, Hoppertunity is an Any Given Saturday half-brother to multiple Grade 1 queen Executiveprivilege. They are out of the Grade 2-placed Refugee, a daughter of Unaccounted For and descendant of Hall of Famer Davona Dale, tracing to a full sister to 1948 Triple Crown legend Citation.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Jockey Flavien Prat: “I knew they were going pretty quick, but I just rode my race. When we turned down the backside, he grabbed the bit and he wanted to go. He’s a cool horse. He can run any distance; he’s just a pro.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert: “This horse really needed a win badly, he’s been going against all of these really tough horses the last couple of years. Sometimes, you do this, show them a win, and you can see a change. I could see he was really enjoying himself…
“I’m not sure where we’ll go with him. There’s the Gold Cup (at Santa Anita May 26) and there’s a race on Belmont Day…so we’ll spot him and just have fun with him.
“He is a barn favorite – everyone loves Hopper. You can tell the crowd was getting into it.”