Hoppertunity delivers the win in the Clark Handicap.<br><a target="blank" href="http://photos.bloodhorse.com/AtTheRaces-1/At-the-Races-2014/i-jpLsZw7">Order This Photo</a>

Hoppertunity delivers the win in the Clark Handicap.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Hoppertunity Gets Churchill Score in Clark

Baffert trainee holds off fellow 3-year-olds Protonico, Constitution Nov. 28.

Hoppertunity made the most of his chance to finally run at Churchill Downs, grinding out his greatest career victory Nov. 28 in the $551,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. I). The sophomore colt led a 3-year-old trifecta as Protonico  and Constitution  finished second and third over older horses (VIDEO).

Trained by Hall of Fame horseman Bob Baffert, Rebel Stakes (gr. II) winner Hoppertunity was highly regarded for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but was declared from that race May 1 and sent to the sidelines due to quarter cracks and for ankle surgery. He returned Oct. 29 to run second in an allowance race at Santa Anita Park and was making his first stakes start for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman since his runner-up finish to eventual Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome  in the April 5 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).

Favored at odds of 2-1, the Any Given Saturday colt was hustled from post 1 in a field of 9 by jockey Martin Garcia, and assumed the stalking position inside Constitution as that one, the 5-2 second choice, carried on to lead.

Constitution set opening fractions of :24.30 and :49.04 with Hoppertunity in dogged persuit on the inside. Shifted out by Garcia after three-quarters in 1:13, Hoppertunity was set down for the stretch drive. 

"I knew today was going to be a really, really big race for him," Garcia said. "We know that he's a really good horse.

"There were about four horses (in the field) that had been running with really good horses. I knew the one on the lead (Constitution) was the most dangerous. I just wanted to follow him."

Hoppertunity and Garcia did just that, putting away a tiring Constitution through a mile in 1:37.34 and then holding off Protonico by half a length. Final time for the 1 1/8-mile test was 1:49.88. 

"He ran great today," said Baffert, who last year narrowly lost the Clark with the now-retired Game On Dude. "All I know is that stretch has been a killer for me, but that horse was bred to run a mile-and-an-eighth and a mile-and-a-quarter.

"The thing about Hoppertunity is that he's sort of a one-paced kind of horse and the way he ran off his first (comeback) race...he was just training really well. He'll get better with age so we're happy. We've got him and (grade I Breeders' Cup Classic winner) Bayern."

The victory in the Clark Handicap by Hoppertunity was the third in the race for Baffert, who saddled Silver Charm, the winner of the 1997 Kentucky Derby, to take the race in 1998 and won the 1996 Clark with Isitingood. It was the second Clark win for Pegram, who was also the co-owner of Isitingood, and the first victory in the race for Garcia.

"It just goes to show you that if you take care of them, they'll take care of you," Pegram said. "I knew this one was a fighter. There's one thing about it: Bobby Baffert doesn't run too many short horses. And this horse wasn't short today. When he was challenged, he had a little more left. It was just a good feeling. I love Kentucky!"

Hoppertunity returned $6.40, $4.60, and $3.40 while Protonico paid $6 and $4.40 with Constitution bringing $3.80. Pick of the Litter, Easter Gift, Prayer for Relief , Departing, Looking Cool, and Knights Nation completed the order of finish.

Bred in Kentucky by Betz/D.J. Stable/Kidder/J. Betz/Robenalt from the Unaccounted For mare Refugee, Hoppertunity improved his record to three wins and two seconds from seven starts for earnings of $950,675. Purchased by Baffert at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale for $300,000 when consigned by Betz Thoroughbreds, Hoppertunity is a half brother to retired multiple grade I winner Executiveprivilege.