10/08/2016 7:28PM

Hoppertunity outlasts Effinex in Jockey Club Gold Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Hoppertunity earned a fees-paid berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic with his triumph in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Hoppertunity got away from California Chrome and got back to the winner’s circle, outfinishing Effinex to take Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

After racing along the inside and within two lengths of the pace-setting Protonico in a bunched field, Hoppertunity, under John Velazquez, tipped to the three-path turning for home. He gradually gained through the stretch on Protonico and Effinex and beat the latter to the wire by a half-length.

It was 2 1/2 lengths back to Protonico in third. Mubtaahij and Watershed completed the order of finish.

Jockey Javier Castellano dismounted from Protonico past the wire and he was vanned off. Dr. Anthony Verderosa, the chief examining veterinarian for the New York Racing Association, said Protonico was lame.

For Hoppertunity, the win was the sixth from 22 starts and it pushed his career earnings to $3,562,675. The win also earned a fees-paid berth to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5, where he will face California Chrome. Hoppertunity finished third to California Chrome in this year’s Dubai World Cup and fourth to him in the Pacific Classic.

“He’s earned his spot in the Breeders’ Cup, he’ll be in the game,” trainer Bob Baffert said from Southern California, where he watched the race on television. “We’ll get him back here, see how he’s training. He’s always right there, he always gets a piece.”

In addition to getting away from California Chrome, Baffert shipped Hoppertunity here believing he would like the deeper surface and the wide turns of Belmont Park.

Baffert told jockey Velazquez that Hoppertunity doesn’t run the turns well, and Velazquez said he wanted to keep the horse closer to the pace so that he wouldn’t have so much to do in the stretch.

Protonico set a modest pace of 24.87 seconds for the quarter, 49.03 for the half-mile and 1:12.18 for six furlongs while being pressed by Effinex, under Mike Smith.

Protonico proved a stubborn foe and it wasn’t until the sixteenth pole that Effinex was able to get by him. But his lead was short-lived as Hoppertunity wore him down.

Hoppertunity, a 5-year-old son of Any Given Saturday owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.68 and returned $9.60 as the 7-2 third choice.

“They told me he doesn’t run really well around the turns so, okay, I kept that in mind and hopefully I can keep him close enough without overdoing it and he did everything I asked him to do,” Velazquez said. “When I pulled him out, he responded.”

Hoppertunity did have an abrasion on the back of his left foreleg after the race.

“He ran down through the bandages a bit,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant who was here to saddle the horse. “It should be superficial.”

Hoppertunity was scheduled to be flown back to Southern California on Sunday to prepare for the Classic.

Effinex, who finished second in last year’s Classic, may have had to expend more energy than his connections had hoped to get by Protonico, leaving him vulnerable for Hoppertunity to wear him down.

“I had hoped to hopefully spurt away when headed for home, but that thing was on me and kept grinding me down little by little,” Smith said.

Still, trainer Jimmy Jerkens said, Effinex did enough to earn himself a trip to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race in which he finished second to American Pharoah last year.

“We’ll give it a shot,” Jerkens said. “He’s tough.”

Effinex will likely need a new rider for the Classic as Smith will probably ride Arrogate, dominant winner of the Travers, in that race.