02/06/2016 7:43PM

Hoppertunity noses out Imperative in San Antonio

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Benoit & Associates
Hoppertunity (second from left), ridden for the first time by Flavien Pratt, barely reaches the wire ahead of Imperative (left) in the Grade 2 San Antonio.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Hoppertunity hadn’t won a race in his last nine starts, and Imperative hadn’t won in his last 13 tries. But with California Chrome and Dortmund absent from the Grade 2, $500,000 San Antonio Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita, they had their best chance in a while to get an overdue win, and fittingly, the margin was razor close.

 Hoppertunity ended his losing streak, but Imperative suffered a heartbreaking defeat, as Hoppertunity prevailed by a nose in a thrilling stretch drive that saw Donworth only a half-length farther back in third in the 1 1/8-mile race for older horses.

 Not only was the victory the first for Hoppertunity in 13 months, but it earned him a ticket to next month’s Dubai World Cup, where he’ll again get to face California Chrome – as well as Frosted and Mshawish – for $10 million.

 “If he’s doing well, that’s what we’re shooting for,” said Bob Baffert, who trains Hoppertunity. “He likes a deep racetrack.”

 Hoppertunity also has done well at Santa Anita, where he has now finished in the money in nine of 10 starts. This was his third win here, and his first since the San Pasqual in January 2015. He was second in this year’s San Pasqual last month to California Chrome.

 On Saturday, Hoppertunity ($5.80), the favorite, raced in sixth in the eight-horse field during the early going, then had to stave off Imperative while reeling in a stubborn Donworth in the closing yards. With Flavien Prat riding him for the first time, Hoppertunity covered 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:48.47.

 Cat Burglar – also trained by Baffert – was fourth and was followed, in order, by Hard Aces, Cyrus Alexander, El Kabeir, and Blingo.

 “I thought he had his head down at the right time,” Baffert said of the photo. “He always comes flying late. He was just getting rolling. It’s nice to see him finally get one. He’s had some heartbreaking losses.”

Prat “thought I was beat, to tell you the truth.”

 Mike Smith, who rode Imperative, was stunned by the photo. “I thought I won,” he said.

 Now age 5, Hoppertunity, by Any Given Saturday, is owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. This was his fifth win in 18 starts, and the $300,000 winner’s share increased his career earnings to $1,872,675.