The 7-year-old Hoppertunity has been racing against top-level competition for what seems like forever, and is showing no signs of slowing down. A 2 1/4-length winner of Saturday's Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational Handicap, the son of Any Given Saturday earned his ninth lifetime victory under Flavien Prat. Trained by Bob Baffert and sent off as the co-second choice at 7-2, Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman's Hoppertunity covered 1 1/2 miles over Belmont Park's fast main track in 2:28.61. Race favorite at 9-5, War Story finished second.
It was the second win on the Belmont Stakes card for Baffert.
“There is so much speed in California that you just can't (run him there),” explained Baffert. “I just ran him at Churchill [Grade 2 Alysheba on May 4] to get him ready for this race. He's been a real favorite in the barn, He's a 7-year-old horse and been around for a long time. He's very healthy and doing so well.”
Outplay was the quickest out of the gate to take the lead, taking his time to move over from his outside post position to the rail. He was followed by the duo of Backsideofthemoon and Giant Payday, while favored War Story tracked from fourth on the far outside. Hoppertunity was nearer the rear of the field early on, riding the rail and saving ground around the clubhouse turn.
Through fractions of :24.86, :50.66 and 1:15.11, Outplay held a one-length lead over Giant Payday, while War Story and Hard Study began to make their moves toward the lead nearing the far turn. Prat threaded Hoppertunity through the pack to gain a perfect position about two lengths behind the leaders at the head of the lane, where War Story and Hard Study, as well as Take Your Guns, were preparing for a stretch duel.
Prat elected to go around Hard Study toward the outside of the course, which nearly cost him as Hard Study shifted outward awkwardly at the eighth pole. Hoppertunity quickly regrouped and shot toward the wire, easily pulling away from his rivals to win by 2 1/4 lengths. War Story just held second over Hard Study, and Take Your Guns finished fourth.
“He really likes the mile and a half,” Prat said. “I got a good trip, even though he broke a bit slow. He was not that sharp from the gate. But then I got a good trip and saved ground, and he made a run down the lane. A mile and a half is the best race for him.”
Bred in Kentucky by Betz, D.J. Stable, Kidder, J. Betz and Robenalt, Hoppertunity was a $300,000 yearling at the Keeneland September sale. His two Grade 1 wins came in the 2014 Clark Handicap and the 2016 Jockey Club Gold Cup, and his two forays to the Dubai World Cup resulted in third and sixth-place finishes. Overall, the hard-knocking Hoppertunity has compiled a record of nine wins, seven seconds and five thirds through 32 starts, earning over $4.6 million.
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