ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 6, 2016)–In what turned out to be the most thrilling finish of the day, favored Hoppertunity, who was ridden by Flavien Prat, beat Imperative by a nose in Saturday’s Grade II, $500,000 San Antonio Stakes, final major steppingstone to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap March 12. Trained by Bob Baffert, Hoppertunity, who had been winless in his last nine starts and was ridden for the first time by Prat, got 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.47.
“He did a good job,” said Prat, who was riding for only the second time for Baffert. “He broke ok today. He’s usually a bit slow from the gate. He broke good, the pace was good, so that helped us a lot. I thought I was beat to tell you the truth.”
A well beaten third in last year’s San Antonio behind a pair of buzz saws, Shared Belief and California Chrome, Hoppertunity came off a close third here behind “Chrome” in the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes on Jan. 9. Off as the 9-5 favorite in a field of eight older horses, Hoppertunity paid $5.80, $2.80 and $2.20.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Hoppertunity, a 5-year-old horse by Any Given Saturday, improved his overall record to 18-5-6-3. With the winner’s take of $300,000, he increased his earnings to $1,872,675.
“I thought I (won the photo),” said Baffert. “…I thought he had his head down at the right time. It was a great run. He always comes flying late…It was nice to see him get up. It was a good prep for Dubai (World Cup on March 26). I just told Flavien, ‘His first jump, he needs a little help leaving there.’ After that, it’s just a matter of if he gets up or not.”
Imperative, who matched strides from off the pace with the winner through the stretch drive, finished a half length in front of Donworth. The second choice at 7-2, he paid $4.00 and $3.00.
“I had to wait for some room to get him out and that really cost me,” said Smith. “I still thought he won! I’m dumbfounded right now, I can’t even talk. I could have sworn that we won.”
Donworth, making his Southern California debut for trainer Doug O’Neill, sat second to Baffert’s Cat Burglar early and took the lead turning for home but tired late, finishing third, 1 ¾ lengths in front of “Cat.” Off at 4-1 with Mario Gutierrez up, Donworth paid $3.60 to show.
Fractions on the race were 23.18, 46.93, 1:10.57 and 1:35.76.