Submitted by John Conte on Friday, March 14, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Baffert Makes Annual Invasion to Hot Springs for Rebel and Razorback
You know it’s getting close to spring in Hot Springs when Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends in a talented 3-year-old for one of Oaklawn’s rich prep races and this year he has sent Hoppertunity for Saturday’s $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2). Baffert will be seeking his fourth Rebel victory after three straight wins between 2010 and 2013 with champion Lookin at Lucky, The Factor and Secret Circle, respectively.
The connections of Hoppertunity have high hopes for him in the Rebel and now it’s time for the son of Any Given Saturday to step up and show whether he belongs in the conversations about the Kentucky Derby.
“He needs to keep running,” said Jimmy Barnes, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s top assistant, who arrived on the grounds from Southern California with him and $200,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) entrant Govenor Charlie on Wednesday.
Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Hoppertunity, who was purchased for $300,000 in Sep-tember’s Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training, is a half-brother to the recently retired Executiveprivilege, a dual Grade 1 winner for the same owners and Baffert. The Kentucky-bred chestnut colt currently stands far back in 36th place with five points among the qualifiers for one of the 20 Kentucky Derby berths.
Unraced as 2-year-old, Hoppertunity has one win in three starts this year and finished fourth, seven lengths back last time out in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) on Feb. 22 despite a trip fraught with trouble in a full field of 14.
“Hoppertunity is a nice colt, who is just developing,” said Barnes. “He’s lightly raced. 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.”
Hoppertunity, ridden by Martin Garcia in his last two outings, picks up the services of Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) for Baffert with Game on Dude last Saturday. Barnes will also give Smith a leg up on Govenor Charlie on Saturday.
The 4-year-old Govenor Charlie will be making his second start of the year in the Razorback. He was second in the Strub Stakes G2) on January 18, winding up 2 ½ lengths behind stable mate Shakin It Up, and recorded an impressive 106 Beyer speed figure while coming back from an eight-month layoff. The Strub was his first start since a badly beaten eighth-place finish in the 2013 Preakness Stakes (G1).
“He came out of the race (Strub) well,” said Barnes. “He just needed time (after the Preakness). When you’re in pursuit of the Triple Crown it’s tough. We passed the Derby (last year) because he just wasn’t right and then we ran him in the Preakness, which was probably a mistake. He just needed a freshening up. We just need to run him again and we needed to find a spot for him. We were coming here anyway so we brought him along.”
Govenor Charlie, owned solely by Pegram, is the progeny of two of his most accomplished horses –Silverbulletday, the 1998 Champion Juvenile Filly and 1999 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly and 2007 Champion Sprinter Midnight Lute.