Hoppertunity, Melatonin square off in Gold Cup at Santa Anita; Kobe’s Back tops Triple Bend

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June 23rd, 2016

Making his first start since a rallying third to California Chrome on late March, Hoppertunity has been installed as a slight 3-1 morning line favorite in Saturday’s $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1). His main rival, Big ‘Cap (G1) winner Melatonin, is the 7-2 second choice in the 1 ¼-mile race.

Hoppertunity finished a nose second in last year’s Gold Cup and has run some of his best races at the Arcadia, California oval. He posted his second local Grade 2 tally when taking the February 6 San Antonio two starts and is a three-time Grade 1 runner-up on the track.

An earner of more than $2.8 million, Hoppertunity is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. The classy 5-year-old will lose jockey Flavien Prat, who sticks with Grade 1 turf star Bal a Bali, but picks up a suitable replacement in Mike Smith, who has ridden the son of Any Given Saturday six times during the past two seasons.

Melatonin extended his mark to 3-for-3 over the track when posting a 16-1 upset in the Santa Anita Handicap two start back, scoring by a commanding 4 ¼-length margin in only his second attempt at two turns and registering a field-best 107 BRIS Speed rating. By Kodiak Cowboy, the 5-year-old gelding exits a commendable runner-up in the April 16 Oaklawn H. (G2) and Melatonin will be on or close to the early lead. Joe Talamo retains the mount for David Hofmans.

The Richard Mandella-trained Bal a Bali earned Horse of the Year honors in his native Brazil before shipping to the U.S. for the 2015 season. The 6-year-old has raced exclusively on turf from 21 starts, posting 13 wins, and he’s recorded back-to-back bullet works over the main track in preparation for his dirt debut.

Trainer Richard Baltas adds blinkers to Grade 2 victor Imperative in attempt to keep him closer during the early stages and the earner of nearly $2 million is listed as the 9-2 third choice on the morning line with Rafael Bejarano. Second Summer is facing a class check, but the in-form gelding merits respect based upon his present form, extending his win streak to three with a one-length upset in the May 22 Californian (G2). That marked the first stakes victory for the 4-year-old and the Peter Eurton trainee keeps Mario Gutierrez in the saddle.

Hard Aces is the defending champ, parlaying a ground-saving trip into his lone graded win, and the 6-year-old exits an encouraging second in the Californian for John Sadler. Santiago Gonzalez picks up the mount. Lieutenant Colonel finished second as the 4-5 favorite in the Californian and the Jerry Hollendorfer-conditioned gelding will show speed with Martin Garcia.

Last-out allowance winner Win the Space completes the eight-horse field.

One race earlier on the program, Kobe’s Back is the one to beat in the $300,000 Triple Bend (G1) at seven furlongs. The Eurton charge opened his 5-year-old campaign with victories in the Palos Verdes (G2) and San Carlos (G2) at Santa Anita, recording a 106 BRIS Speed for the former, and exits a rallying third in the Churchill Downs (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day. Regular rider Gary Stevens guides the late-running son of Flatter.

Subtle Indian will try to lead all the way. The 4-year-old Indian Charlie gelding won four straight races at Oaklawn, including a convincing 3 ¾-length tally in the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) that netted a 105 BRIS Speed, and Robert Diodoro trainee recorded a game second in the May 21 Kona Gold (G2) while making his Santa Anita debut. The speedster could countinue to show more with new rider Smith.

The eight-horse field also includes Grade 2 winner Lord Nelson, a sharp 3 ½-length allowance scorer on June 3 in his 2016 bow; San Carlos runner-up Coastline; Kona Gold third Cautious Giant; and Grade 3 victor Home Run Kitten.

Hoppertunity photo courtesy of Benoit Photos