06/23/2016 12:16PM

Hoppertunity crashes the party in Gold Cup

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Barbara D. Livingston
Hoppertunity was initially going to pass the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, but his recent training persuaded Bob Baffert to give it a shot.

ARCADIA, Calif. – There were times in early June when Hoppertunity did not look ready to return to racing following his third-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26. Then came a six-furlong workout in 1:12.20 at Santa Anita last Saturday.

Trainer Bob Baffert saw enough that morning to point Hoppertunity for Saturday’s $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

“He’s never been a good work horse,” Baffert said on Thursday. “For him, he worked very well. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll run him.’ ”

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With the presence of four-time stakes winner Hoppertunity in the Grade 1 Gold Cup, the race gained a clear favorite. The Gold Cup, which drew a field of eight, is for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/4 miles.

For an early-summer race, the stakes are high. The Gold Cup is part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program, offering a fees-paid berth for the $6 million BC Classic here on Nov. 5 to the winner.

The Gold Cup at Santa Anita is the ninth and final race on a program that begins at 1:30 p.m. Pacific. The preceding race is the $300,000 Triple Bend Stakes, a Grade 1 at seven furlongs.

KEY CONTENDERS

Hoppertunity, by Any Given Saturday

Last 3 Beyers: 105-100-103

◗ In the Dubai World Cup, Hoppertunity was beaten four lengths by winner California Chrome, who is being prepared for a return to racing at Del Mar in July.

◗ Flavien Prat rode Hoppertunity in the Dubai World Cup and in his victory in the Grade 2 San Antonio in February. But Prat is committed to riding the longshot Bal a Bali, and Baffert has selected Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to ride Hoppertunity in the Gold Cup. Smith has ridden Hoppertunity six times, including in a second to California Chrome in the 2014 Santa Anita Derby.

◗ Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, Hoppertunity has won 5 of 19 starts and earned $2,872,675.

◗ Hoppertunity races as a closer, and Baffert expects the 5-year-old horse to be a factor in the stretch in his first start in three months.

“I don’t have him as cranked up as I’d like to have him, but I’m counting on his class,” Baffert said. “He has a big set of lungs, and he’ll come running.”


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 6 Hoppertunity. Trainer Bob Baffert is 16-2-1-1 with a $0.68 ROI over the past two years when making a jockey switch to Mike Smith. – Mike Hogan

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Melatonin, by Kodiak Kowboy

Last 3 Beyers: 104-107-97

◗ This has been a career-defining year for Melatonin, who won the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on March 12 and was second to Effinex in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 16.

◗ Trained by David Hofmans for Susan Osborne, Melatonin will be near the front in the Gold Cup.

◗ Hofmans has considered the Gold Cup a goal for Melatonin for the last two months, and he decided not to race him in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes on May 22.

“This is a prep for the Breeders’ Cup, and that’s why we gave him the break,” he said. “It’s going to be tough from here on out.”

Second Summer, by Summer Bird

Last 3 Beyers: 104-93-93

◗ Second Summer has improved remarkably this year, winning 3 of 4 starts. He has won three consecutive races, including the Californian at 1 1/8 miles over Hard Aces, the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

◗ Second Summer will start at 1 1/4 miles for the first time on Saturday. The distance is not the primary concern for trainer Peter Eurton.

“At a mile and an eighth, he looked like he was loaded the whole way,” he said. “I’m more worried about the competition than the distance – Melatonin and Hoppertunity.”

Hard Aces, by Hard Spun

Last 3 Beyers: 102-95-101

◗ Hard Aces is winless in eight starts since the 2015 Gold Cup and was beaten a length by Second Summer in the Californian. Trained by John Sadler, Hard Aces needs Melatonin and the longshot Lieutenant Colonel, who was third in the Californian, to set a good pace.

“He can’t make his own running,” Sadler said. “He’s not a win machine, but he does pretty good.

“He needs the longer races with pace in front of him.”


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 8 Imperative. Trainer Richard Baltas is 99-32-18-7 with a $2.22 ROI over the past two years when making a jockey switch to Rafael Bejarano. – Mike Hogan

RaceTote More than 1 year ago
I like Melatonin, but congruent with the field is defined by inconsistency and an occasional victory. It's OK for the connections, but leaves difficult choices for the weekend handicapper. 
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Ten years agio, this would be a grade 3 quality field.
Kristopher Marshall More than 1 year ago
4 G1 winners in the field.  That beats G3 by miles.