02/04/2015 2:07PM

Hoppertunity faces tough company in San Antonio Stakes

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Hoppertunity, winner of the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, will face tough company Saturday in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita against the likes of California Chrome and Shared Belief.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Most horses with consecutive stakes wins would be held in high regard for a race such as Saturday’s $500,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita.

For Hoppertunity, his wins in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28 and the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes here Jan. 10 will leave him as the third choice in the betting for the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes.

With the opposition led by California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year, and Shared Belief, the champion 2-year-old male of 2013, Hoppertunity may be somewhat overlooked in the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio.

:: SAN ANTONIO: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Hoppertunity has won 4 of 8 starts and earned $1,070,675 for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. Trainer Bob Baffert considers Saturday’s race a prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.

“I’m just taking steps to the Big Cap,” Baffert said. “He’s doing well.”

Last April, Hoppertunity was second to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby and was an intended starter for the Kentucky Derby before suffering an injury in the days before the race.

“It was too bad about Kentucky,” said Baffert. “He loved that track. This is not his favorite surface.”

Hoppertunity did not seem to mind the Santa Anita surface Jan. 10, when he closed from sixth in a field of 11 to win the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths. If he closes from off the pace to reach contention in the San Antonio, he is expected to be alongside California Chrome and Shared Belief at a pivotal point in the race.

The San Antonio has a field of nine, including Alfa Bird, Bronzo, Clubhouse Ride, Imperative, Tonito M., and You Know I Know.

Clubhouse Ride will be a longshot in the field if he starts. On Wednesday, trainer Craig Lewis said Clubhouse Ride is “60-40” to run but added “that could get stronger.”

:: DRF Live: Watch live handicapping analysis of Saturday’s biggest races

The 7-year-old Clubhouse Ride is winless in five starts since the Grade 2 Californian Stakes here last June.

“He might have lost his competitive edge. I don’t know,” Lewis said. “He’s acting good or I wouldn’t think of it, but it’s a tall mountain to climb.”

The San Antonio will be the first start for Imperative since finishing 15th of 16 in the $1.47 million Champions Cup on dirt Dec. 7 at Chukyo Racecourse in Japan. Imperative won the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in 2014 and later was ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

California Chrome galloped 1 3/4 miles Wednesday at Santa Anita.

“He’s feeling pretty good,” said Alan Sherman, assistant trainer to his father, Art Sherman.

Shared Belief was en route Wednesday morning to Santa Anita, an eight-hour van ride from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s stable at Golden Gate Fields.

Baffert will have the favorite in the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles in Dortmund, the undefeated winner of the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 20.

The Grade 3 Lewis will have a small field, including Firing Line, Hero Ten All, Rock Shandy, Sebastian's Heart, and Tizcano. Firing Line was second to Dortmund in the Los Alamitos Futurity.