Bob Baffert captured his fourth Rebel S. (G2) on Saturday when Hoppertunity survived a rough stretch run to prevail by a half-length in the 1 1/16-mile, $600,000 contest at Oaklawn Park.
After breaking his maiden going a mile at Santa Anita on Jan. 30 in his second start, Baffert, shipped the 3-year-old son of Any Given Saturday to the Fair Grounds for the Risen Star S. (G2), but got a wide trip after getting caught near the back of a 14-horse field, and checked in fourth.
Baffert, who won three consecutive running of the Rebel in 2010-2012, shipped Hoppertunity with long-time assistant Jimmy Barnes to give the bay colt another chance to show his talent.
“(He) is a nice colt, who is just developing,” said Barnes earlier in the week. “Last time, it was unfortunate that he got shuffled back a little further than we wanted him to be. He was running at the end, but he had so much ground to make that he needed to be another five or six lengths closer than he was. But, he handled it well, and we learned a little bit out of the race. He did show up.”
In a contentious 8-horse field in the Rebel, first-time rider Mike Smith got Hoppertunity in contention right from the outset, stalking three-wide around the first turn and down the backstretch.
With Strong Mandate and Ride on Curlin battling for the top spot coming into the stretch, Hoppertunity was forced four wide by Tapiture just to his inside. The quartet lined up across the track in midstretch, with plenty of contact as the closed in on the wire. Hoppertunity, widest of all had the momentum to beat Tapiture to the line, finishing the distance in 1:43.90 over a “wet-fast” track.
A stewards' inquiry and jockeys' claim of foul was ultimately disallowed, giving Hoppertunity his first career stakes victory.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Hoppertunity was purchased for $300,000 in Keeneland's September Yearling sale. He is a half-brother to the recently retired Executiveprivilege, a dual Grade 1 winner for the same connections
With his victory in the Rebel, Hoppertunity picked up 50 points towards a spot in the starting gate for the 2014 Kentucky Derby (G1). He also picked up a hefty paycheck of $360,000 for his connections, upping his lifetime take to $410,720.
Baffert said the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1 on April 12) could be a target for Hoppertunity, but wouldn't decide right away.
"I'm going to get him back here (to California) and we'll be back there (to Oaklawn) with something, but I don't know (if it will be him)," Baffert said, in reference to his 3-year-old stable. "I can't think that far ahead. He'll let me know what to do."