Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club

Hope Floats for Hoppertunity in Dubai World Cup

Consistent son of Any Given Saturday was third in last year's $10 million test.

The very nature of Hoppertunity's name is rooted in the hopeful. And every time his Hall of Fame trainer engages in a discussion concerning the son of Any Given Saturday, one can almost see the weight of the world lift off Bob Baffert's shoulders.

For four seasons Hoppertunity has been the comfort zone of Baffert's shedrow. Before American Pharoah  became a Triple Crown-winning hero and before Juddmonte Farms' champion Arrogate  showed up to further complicate the question of who the best protege is to ever come out of Baffert's barn, the bay horse was perfecting his longstanding impersonation of an ATM machine.

He rarely has his own spotlight, but he always brings home a check. While he is firmly in Arrogate's lengthy shadow as the duo readies for their respective runs in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) at Meydan Race Course March 25, Hoppertunity's standing as Baffert's resident bright spot is one that will not be usurped.

"I was kidding around that it's like when you go to (Las) Vegas and the dealer shows an ace and they ask you for insurance," Baffert cracked. "That's what Hopper is. He's my insurance here."

If Arrogate is an equine Michael Jordan in progress, give Hoppertunity the Sixth Man award. Consistently in the backdrop at racing's top level, the veteran grinder has nonetheless become a horse any owner would love to have in the barn, boasting multiple graded stakes wins, a pair of grade 1 triumphs, and a bankroll of more than $4 million and counting.

Flashback three years ago when Hoppertunity was the fresh-faced sophomore who stamped his arrival on the Triple Crown trail by the strength of his victory in the 2014 Rebel Stakes (G2). Before injury necessitated his scratch from the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), he was installed as the second choice on the morning line behind eventual dual classic winner and two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome .

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Hindsight reveals that second-best designation to be apropos. He has had breakout moments, earning his first grade 1 score in the 2014 Clark Handicap and getting over that hump again two years later when he captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1) last October. But while Hoppertunity often runs into rivals whose best day can trump his steady ways, his seven wins, six runner-up efforts, and four third-place finishes from 25 career starts consistently inspire hope that he is one stroke of racing luck away from a big score.

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"He needs a full mile and a quarter and he needs a little luck up front. but he's always right there," said Baffert, who conditions Hoppertunity for longtime clients Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. "He's like Pac-Man, coming up there and eating away at them at the end. He's never been able to beat a horse like Chrome or a horse like Arrogate. But he's made $4 million just being there. 

"I remember (jockey) Mike Smith this summer saying ... 'One of these days he's going to win one of these big ones.' It's one of those things where he is going to have to get a tipped pass or something like that to score a touchdown."

If there is a question hanging over Arrogate heading into Saturday's Dubai World Cup, it centers around how his brilliance will translate after shipping across the globe and adapting to an environment unlike any he has experienced. In that respect, Hoppertunity has one on his Breeders' Cup Classic (G1)-winning stablemate.

A year ago, the bay horse finished third in the 1 1/4-mile race behind California Chrome. Just like last year, he comes into this season's Dubai test off a win in the San Antonio Stakes (G2) and has gotten over the Meydan surface as well as any contender during morning training.

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"He loves it here," Baffert said. "He's a big, strong horse and he's an older horse, and he really carries his flesh really well."

With the privilege of training an overwhelming force like Arrogate comes the pressure of making sure lofty expectations are met at every turn. With Hoppertunity, Baffert can relax, safe in the knowledge that even if his best isn't good enough on the day, he will always uncork a effort that does him proud amongst the elite.

"He couldn't be any better. He shipped well (and) he always get a piece of it," Baffert said. "We hope one day he gets the whole enchilada."