03/26/2016 2:59PM

Hoppertunity can't catch California Chrome once again


ARCADIA, Calif.- Hoppertunity finished third behind California Chrome in Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.

Being behind California Chrome is a familiar position for Hoppertunity.

The 5-year-old Hoppertunity has been chasing California Chrome for the last two years. They were first and second in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby in 2014; second and third behind Shared Belief in the San Antonio in February 2015; and first and third in the San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 9.

In the Dubai World Cup, the payoff softened the loss. Hoppertunity earned $1 million for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

“He just can’t beat Chrome,” trainer Bob Baffert said.

Baffert stayed in Southern California this week, entrusting exercise rider Dana Barnes with the hands-on management of Hoppertunity in Dubai. Barnes is the wife of Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant.

Late Saturday morning, Baffert reflected on Hoppertunity’s performance. The trainer knows full well what it takes to win the Dubai World Cup, having done so with Silver Charm in 1998 and Captain Steve in 2001.

“We wanted to win $6 million,” Baffert said of the first-place share of the purse. “I was proud of the way he ran.”

A closer, Hoppertunity was at the back of the field of 12 for the first mile of the 1 1/4-mile race, and closed well through the stretch to finish four lengths behind California Chrome and a neck behind Mubtaahij, who finished second.

Baffert said he was satisfied with the performance, and with jockey Flavien Prat’s tactics to keep Hoppertunity off the rail.

“Prat rode a good race,” Baffert said. “I’d rather have lost ground than be down on the inside. There was no pace. No one went.”

Hoppertunity has won 5 of 19 starts and earned $2,872,675. By Any Given Saturday, Hoppertunity has won four stakes, notably the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November 2014, and the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 6 in his last start before the trip to Dubai.

“He tries every time,” Baffert said.

Hoppertunity is expected to be flown back to the United States on Tuesday and return to Baffert’s stable by next weekend. His next start has not been determined, but is unlikely to occur until the summer. There are several lucrative races for older horses in Southern California this summer, including the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 25 and the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on a date to be determined in August.

The problem for Baffert and the partners that own Hoppertunity is the same races may draw California Chrome.