ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 4, 2017)—Bob Baffert’s veteran 6-year-old Hoppertunity successfully defended his title in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Antonio Stakes Saturday as he rallied from last to overhaul stablemate Mor Spirit by one length in deep stretch while getting 1 1/16 miles under Flavien Prat in 1:42.55.
Fresh off the best year of his distinguished career, Hoppertunity had been idle since running a disappointing fourth in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25.
“He was training really, really well for this,” said Baffert. “It’s like the best I’ve ever seen him train. Prat worked him the other day and the track was really fast. He (worked six furlongs) in 1:10 and four (fifths). I was afraid they went too fast but they were doing it the right way…Hoppertunity, he just grinded it out, came running and I’m happy for the Pegram, Watson and Weitman team. This horse has been a lot of fun for them.
“There’s nothing like having a good horse. That’s why we’re in the business, so as long as he’s doing well, we’ll go to Dubai (for the Dubai World Cup March 25) and see if we can get another win. That was the plan all along…”
Off at 5-2 in a field of seven older horses, the full horse by Any Given Saturday paid $7.00, $3.40 and $2.20. Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Hoppertunity improved his overall mark to 25-7-6-4. With the winner’s share of $180,000, he pushed past the $4 million mark, running his earnings to $4,066,425.
“Everyone knows this horse,” said Prat, who was aboard for last year’s San Antonio win and who hadn’t ridden Hoppertunity since running fourth behind California Chrome in the Grade I Pacific Classic four starts back on Aug. 20. “He ran a great race. I think he may be better than he was last year. He seems better.
“He’s always slow out of the gate, he’ll never be fast and he likes to come from off the pace. Once he starts running, you just have to let him run and do his thing. The worst part for me, is the first part of the race, because I have to ask him. But then he just takes you to the wire.” (The San Antonio win marked Prat’s third consecutive win on the Saturday card).
Baffert’s Mor Spirit, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes going seven furlongs on Dec. 26, had the look of a horse who would step forward today stretching out, but he couldn’t match strides with the winner inside the sixteenth pole and had to settle for second, finishing three quarters of a length in front of Accelerate.
Ridden by Mike Smith, Mor Spirit was off as the 9-5 favorite and paid $3.40 and $2.40.
Fourth after a half mile under Tyler Baze, Accelerate had no apparent excuses while running third, a head in front of early pacesetter El Huerfano. Off at 5-2, Accelerate paid $2.20 to show.
Fractions on the race were 23.18, 46.30, 1:10.39 and 1:36.18.
Grade 2, $300,000 San Antonio Stakes Quotes
FLAVIEN PRAT, HOPPERTUNITY, WINNER: “This has been a great day. Before today, I knew I had a good shot to do well and everything turned out really well. Sometimes it doesn’t, even when you know you have a good chance, but today turned out very well.
“Everyone knows this horse. He ran a great race. I think he may be better than he was last year. He seems better.
“He’s always slow out of the gate, he’ll never be fast and he likes to come from off the pace. Once he starts running, you just have to let him run and do his thing. The worst part for me is the first part of the race, because I have to ask him. But then he just takes you to the wire.”
MIKE SMITH, MOR SPIRIT, SECOND: “He needed this. Going around two turns is what he wants. I’m not too sure I got enough out of it I guess, going seven-eighths (in the Malibu).
“Speed has been playing good so I tried to stay fairly close. Everything worked today, other than Hoppertunity. When (Hoppertunity) runs his A race . . . I mean he’s been running against the best in the world. My horse, he’s just now getting back to where he used to be, hopefully better.
“This race should really set him up. Now he’ll be really fit to run huge next time out. But the seven-eighths…I think he got something out of it, just not enough. He still ran great.”
BOB BAFFERT, HOPPERTUNITY, WINNER, AND MOR SPIRIT, SECOND: “He was training really, really well for this. It’s like the best I’ve ever seen him train. Prat worked him the other day and the track was really fast. He went 10 and four (Jan. 30). I was afraid they went too fast but they were doing it the right way.
“I was really happy about Mor Spirit. I thought for sure turning for home he was going to win it. But Hoppertunity, he just grinded it out, came running, and I’m happy for the (owners) Pegram, Watson and Weitman team. This horse has been a lot of fun for them. There’s nothing like having a good horse. That’s why we’re in the business, so as long as he’s doing well we’ll go to Dubai (World Cup, March 25) and see if we can get another win.
“That was the plan all along. This horse has made so much money just picking up here and there (now $4,066,425). I don’t know what I’m going to do with Mor Spirit. We’re going to play it by ear but today was a good race for him. He was part of that pace up front and they were going pretty fast . . . I think he’ll move forward because he’s a big, heavy horse. He did a lot of running early and he got beat by a Grade 1 horse that’s made four million dollars. It was a good race.”
KARL WATSON, CO-OWNER, HOPPERTUNITY, WINNER: “I was a little concerned about the mile and a sixteenth today, but he handled it. We’re excited. He’s been doing really well and we’re keeping our fingers crossed. I think the goal is to get him back to Dubai. There’s no California Chrome this year, but we don’t know about Arrogate. There’s always somebody.”
Source: Santa Anita Park