11/28/2014 6:32PM

Hoppertunity leads 3-year-old sweep in Clark Handicap

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Hoppertunity (center), ridden by Martin Garcia, wins the Grade 1 Clark Handicap by a half-length Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Any doubts about the dominance of the 3-year-old class of 2014 were left in the cold and dusty loam of Churchill Downs when Hoppertunity led a sweep of the top spots by 3-year-olds Friday in the 141st running of the Grade 1, $551,000 Clark Handicap, the annual fall-meet showcase.

Ridden by Martin Garcia, Hoppertunity held off the stretch run of Protonico to win the 1 1/8-mile race by a half-length, with Constitution another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. That trifecta represented the only 3-year-olds in the field of nine.

For Mike Pegram, who co-owns Hoppertunity with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, the victory was especially rewarding because the colt had been scratched off the Kentucky Derby program as the second morning-line choice because of a foot bruise.

“This shows that if you take care of the horse, they’ll take care of you,” said Pegram.

Hoppertunity, a Kentucky-bred by Any Given Saturday, returned $6.40 as the favorite after finishing in 1:49.88 over fast going.

Making his second start for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert since being sidelined after the Derby, Hoppertunity was always in a great position. Constitution, the 5-2 second choice, led him through splits of 24.30 seconds, 49.04, and 1:13, but Garcia always felt his horse was willing when asked.

“He was short last time,” said Garcia. “We knew he was ready for this.”

Down the stretch, Hoppertunity was unrelenting. He overtook Constitution and had enough left to stave off Protonico, a 7-1 shot under Joe Bravo. The second- and third-place finishers are trained by Todd Pletcher.

After the top three, the order was Pick of the Litter, Easter Gift, Prayer for Relief, Departing, Looking Cool, and Knights Nation.

The Clark finish mimicked that of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where 3-year-olds swept the top six placings, led by the Baffert-trained Bayern.

For Baffert, who deputized longtime assistant Jim Barnes for saddling duties while he stayed in California, it was his third Clark victory, following Isitingood in 1996 and Silver Charm in 1998. Pegram also was a part-owner in Isitingood.

Hoppertunity emerged as a major Derby contender by winning the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March and finishing second to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby in April. But hopes were dashed when the colt incurred his foot bruise that simply required time for him to recover.

Hoppertunity was a fast-closing second in a seven-furlong allowance during Breeders’ Cup week at Santa Anita in his lone prep toward the Clark.

“Bobby used an abundance of precaution, and look what we got,” said Pegram. “This right here is sweet, and hopefully we’ll be rewarded by having a real nice 4-year-old on our hands.”

The Clark, as has been the custom since 2010, was run under the lights. Attendance on an unseasonably cold day surely was a meet-high, although figures are not released by Churchill Downs Inc.

The $2 exacta (1-6) paid $64, the $1 trifecta (1-6-7) returned $150.40, and the 10-cent superfecta (1-6-7-9) was worth $77.03.

John Flynn More than 1 year ago
Martin Garcia - Should get the Eclipse - He is the Best in my book.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Sharp win by Bafferts' 2yo on Saturday. Let's hope he's back in May.
Scott More than 1 year ago
I really like Hoppertunity's running style and think he'll be a very interesting player in the older horse Division next year. The style fits on any dirt track in America and he seems to have that grit you need to be a champion. I just hope all of these excellent 3 year olds come back next year, because all of the good older horses retired and only one of them appears to be considering a run at next year: Palace Malice vs this crop will be extremely interesting and fun if they're all healthy.
Joey W More than 1 year ago
Martin makes every crack of the whip count. Great ride. Loved how he lets Constitiution get to the rail then immediatley puts outside pressure on him. Well done Mr. Garcia.
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
Yeah Churchill doesn't want to release attendance because it would show what a sad sack track they have become.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Constitution needed more bullet works eh, Pletch?
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
Congratulations to Hoppertunity and his connections! (And by the way, the co-owner is Weitman, not Weiter.) This was my Derby horse, and I'm so glad to see him come back strong in this Grade 1 event. Looking forward to a great 4 year old season for him and Bayern - can Baffert keep them apart at S.A.?
Scott More than 1 year ago
Amy, Hoppertunity was one of the horses that I thought could beat California Chrome in the Derby, but believe it or not I was thrilled when he was scratched (please note this is strictly from a handicapper's viewpoint and that I don't want any horses to suffer any injuries). There were a couple reasons: 1) History rarely gets bucked and Hoppertunity never raced at 2 years old and this is a trend that you MUST pay attention to, because it's over 100 years old! However, I was probably still going to waste money on a horse that would have had to shatter one of the Derby's longest trends to win. By scratching, they protected me from myself and in the end I hit the Exacta. (truly sad note: I actually wrote my bets out and the very first two bets I wrote would have hit the Trifecta and the Superfecta, but for some reason I went against my gut and it cost me a couple grand. The exacta was a break even for me and little more). 2) As much as I liked Hoppertunity's chances, I really hated the fact that they had made him the second choice on the morning line. I was hoping to see him 4th or 5th or longer when the dust settled. He was to be my "wise guy" choice, but instead, he was going to be a popular pick. Again, I'm glad that I didn't have to make the choice. Finally, I'm excited to see this guy healthy and competitive next year. Any Given Saturday was a fine colt and I really think that Hoppertunity has the right style to run on and win on any dirt track in America. He'll push the likes of California Chrome and Shared Belief to the ends assuming they all stay healthy. Fingers crossed!
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Scott, the last first Saturday in May, nobody was beating CC.....