Hoppertunity shipped from his California base to Belmont Park on Saturday and came away with a hard-earned half-length victory in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).
The win was Baffert's first in the Jockey Club since 1999, when he won with River Keen.
After a slow pace early, Hoppertunity looked to be at a disadvantage while in third with just two furlongs to run. John Velazquez swung Hoppertunity to the outside and collared Effinex at the sixteenth pole, outdueling the Grade 1 winner in the final strides to secure the win in 2:00.68 for the 1 1/4-miles.
"There wasn't a whole lot of speed in the race other than Effinex. Everybody stayed sensible," said Baffert's assistant Jimmy Barnes, who made the cross-country trip with Hoppertunity. "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 run at (Santa Anita). This race is a mile-and-a-quarter. You run in the Awesome Again (last Saturday at Santa Anita), it's a mile-and-an-eighth. The horse wants distance; that was the main reason to come here."
With a probably start in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) looming, Hoppertunity upped his lifetime earnings to $3,562,675 for the trio of Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.