Cross-country trip pays off for Hoppertunity in Jockey Club Gold Cup

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 8th, 2016

Scratched from a match-up against California Chrome in last Saturday's Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, Hoppertunity made the most of the class relief and his first start at Belmont Park, rallying to win Saturday's $980,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).

After rating a couple of lengths off a moderate pace in fourth, Hoppertunity launched his bid in the long stretch at the 1 1/2-mile oval and wore down Effinex to score by a half-length. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who said the five-year-old horse would benefit from the 1 1/4-mile distance earlier in the week, Hoppertunity was off as the 7-2 third choice among five contestants and stopped the tele-timer in 2:00.68 over the fast track with John Velazquez.

Protonico showed the way early from his innermost post, recording an opening quarter-mile in :24.87. Effinex advanced to duel through splits of :49.03 and 1:12.18 before taking a short lead after entering the stretch. But it was short-lived as Hoppertunity grinded his way into contention on the far outside and gradually proved best late.

Owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, Hoppertunity boosted his earnings to $3,562,675 with the lucrative payday and his record now reads 22-6-6-4. He was bred in Kentucky by Betz/D.J. Stable/Kidder/J. Betz/Robenalt and was purchased for $300,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September sale.

The son of Any Given Saturday is out of the Grade 2-placed Unaccounted For mare Refugee, making him a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Executiveprivilege. Hoppertunity counts 1979 champion three-year-old filly Davona Dale as his third maternal dam.

Effinex wound up 2 1/2 lengths better than third-placer Protonico. Mubtaahij and Watershed were never a serious factor.

Jockey Club Gold Cup Quotes:

Hoppertunity jockey John Velazquez:

"It was a good trip. They told me he can be a little lazy the first part of the race so I sent him out of there and made sure he was somewhere in the mix, not too far back. He was in the bridle, so he was very good and just cruising along at a good pace. I was just kind of reminding him to stay where I needed him to be and he did everything I wanted him to.

"I knew that he's always going around other horses and I wanted him to be inside, save all the ground I could and try to work my way out somewhere around the three-eighths pole, the quarter-pole, and it worked out that way. The only thing they told me is that he doesn't really run well around the turns. So, OK, I kept it in mind and hoped that I could keep him close enough when he gets around the turns without overdoing it and he did everything I asked him to do. When I pulled him out, he responded."

Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert, Hoppertunity:

"There wasn't a whole lot of speed in the race other than Effinex. Everybody stayed sensible. The most important thing for Hopper is that he was standing good and broke good and he was placed more forwardly in the race, especially on a slow pace, that's probably why he was a little closer. We always thought in our minds that he would like these big turns here, and this big, deep track where he would have a chance to come from behind.

"We didn't want run at home. This race is a mile and a quarter. You run in the Awesome Again, it's a mile and an eighth. The horse wants distance – that was the main reason to come here.

"He's had a tough campaign. He's won at Churchill, he's won at Santa Anita. He ran his race in Dubai, but he had to run against California Chrome there. He had to come from off the pace and those horses didn't back up that day. With all that being said, we've always had this race in the back of our minds."

Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of Effinex:

"I wonder if he really saw the other horse. I don't know if he really saw the horse until it was too late, because then he tried to fight back on. He wears that cup on the outside. It does have a little diamond in the back so they see a shadow at least, but he didn't act like he saw him until the horse was already past him. It's a shame. At the quarter pole, he looked like he couldn't lose. He was just galloping."

Dr. Russell Cohen of Tri-Bone Stables, owner of Effinex:

"We haven't missed anything with him, he hasn't shied away from anybody. At the end of the day, I'm honored just to be here and have a horse of his significance and impact in the game. Being a small outfit with very humble circumstances, I'm really honored to have a really sound horse that shows the high levels of racing can be achieved."

(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport)