Hoppertunity gives Baffert another shot at Classic gold

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TwinSpires Staff

October 8th, 2016

Story & Photo by Teresa Genaro

You have to go back to the last century to find Bob Baffert’s name on the list of winners of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but a game Hoppertunity gave the California trainer a second spot on that list, running past both Protonico and Effinex late to win by a half-length.

While the 2016 Gold Cup lacked the luster of past editions of the race, attracting a field of only five horses, Hoppertunity faced some formidable foes, among them Effinex, the winner of last year’s Grade 1 Clark Handicap and runner-up to American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, and Protonico, runner-up to Hoppertunity in the latter’s only previous Grade 1 win, the 2014 Clark.

And it was those three that comprised the trifecta, the ever-determined Effinex finishing second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Protonico, who had set a dawdling pace. Protonico was pulled up past the wire and vanned off, with no immediately apparent serious injury.

The win earns Hoppertunity a chance to take on California Chrome for the fourth time this year, the latter having taken each contest, including last week’s Grade 1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita. Both races are part of the “Win & You’re In” series for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“We didn’t want to run at home,” said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes. “The 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…we’ve always had this race in the back of our minds.”

Should Hoppertunity point to the 10-furlong Classic, he’ll have to once again face California Chrome. And so too will Effinex, whose owner said that they’ll definitely head west to take another shot this year.

“We haven’t missed anything with him,” said Russell Cohen of Tri-Bone Stables. “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. We’re in for the Breeders’ Cup. There’s no question about it: we’re going.” 

Said Effinex’s trainer Jimmy Jerkens, “I wonder if he really saw (Hoppertunity). I don’t know if he really saw (Hoppertunity) until it was too late, because then he tried to fight back on. He wears that cup on the outside, (which) has a little diamond…so he can 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.”

Though it was 1999 when Baffert last won the Jockey Club Cup -- with River Keen -- you don’t have to look back quite that far to find his name on the list of Breeders’ Cup Classic winners: he’s won the last two editions with Bayern and American Pharoah. A third straight win would give him more than any other trainer and be a heck of a historical trifecta…but California Chrome might have something to say about that.