Hoppertunity was the workout star at Churchill on Monday…..though his was one of only two timed drills over the wet track. Don’t know that there’s going to be much more from which to parse these horses’ fitness and affinity for the track the rest of this week. The workouts may be over with the drill by General a Rod today (half in 49.50, out in 1:04.16, as tweeted by DRF’s clocker Mike Welsch). Gallops and jogs will only tell us so much, and there we start to dip into “too much information” territory. Reading about possible blowouts by Uncle Sigh and Wicked Strong on Thursday, though I’m not clear as to whether they will be official timed drills.
Anyway, I’m now reconsidering Hoppertunity, and quite favorably so. He worked in company with Baffert’s Grade 1 winning Drill, and you can watch how well he handled the track here, via HRTV.com. He went five furlongs in 1:01.25, and earned effusive praise from Welsch, and from Richard Migliore on HRTV’s Pursuit of the Crown (a must-watch if you have that network). Welsch caught him galloping out six furlongs in 1:14; seven furlongs in 1:27 1/5, “in hand the entire way.” And remember that Baffert commented that Garcia had trouble pulling him up. Welsch called it one of the best works he’s seen there, and it was his second impressive workout, with the first one coming on a dry track.
So the horse is apparently sharp, he’s very lightly raced and obviously eligible to improve (as most of these are). Forget his debut at seven furlongs and his 4th in the Risen Star, which was only his third career start (first against winners) and in which he was impossibly wide. He won the Rebel, earning a TFUS figure of 103. He then improved his figure to a 107 when beaten by California Chrome in the SA Derby. That isn’t too far off the mark of the top numbers earned by Wicked Strong (117), Samraat (114), and California Chrome (113) – and it’s going in the right direction. (Beyer gave him a 100 for the Rebel, and had him regressing in the SA Derby.) And we’re about due for a Derby winner who hasn’t raced at two, don’t you think? His pedigree is rather intriguing. He’s by Any Given Saturday out of Refugee, a mare by the Whitney/Jim Dandy winner Unaccounted For, and also the dam of Baffert’s fine multiple Grade 1 winning filly Executiveprivilege. Refugee ran third in the Grade 2, mile and a half Orchid Stakes on the grass at Gulfstream in 2002; but she was in front at the mile and a quarter mark, and got the last quarter to that point in a snappy 23.78 seconds. So certainly a hint of stamina there….if just a hint.
Maybe Hoppertunity is the sharp and improving horse that will be somewhat overlooked in the betting. Sometimes, when confronted with what seems to players like clear evidence that a horse isn’t quite good enough to win – in this case, that last running line that shows him getting beaten by five lengths by California Chrome – the bettors will move on and allow it to go off overlaid in the win pool. With a Derby berth assured, it’s entirely possible that Baffert did not have the colt fully cranked for that race. If the workouts are any indication, he certainly appears to be getting cranked now.
Tapiture was the other worker on Monday; a “typical Steve Asmussen work” we are told – a nice and easy half in 50.16 seconds. Of course, there’s little ‘typical’ around the trainer these days. While there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be standing in the winner’s circle on Friday with Untapable, I’d be quite surprised if he wins the Derby with this colt. I know many people would consider that to be a “nightmare” scenario. However, I’ve seen Asmussen interviewed this week, and he seems relaxed and happy. I’m sure he would do a perfectly fine job addressing any questions and putting a rational and human face before the cameras amidst the controversy swirling about him.
Back to General a Rod; if you missed it, he was sold yesterday. His prior owner, one J. Armando Rodriguez, relinquished all ownership interest in the colt. If that’s not a direct message as to how he feels about his Derby chances, I don’t know what is! You gotta love that….take the money and run, while you can!
Two of the New York horses, Uncle Sigh and Wicked Strong, made appearances on the track on Monday. Uncle Sigh was equipped with the blinkers in which he will be outfitted for the first time, and The Mig reported that he has been reshod to deal with “minor” foot issues. No, you don’t want to hear about foot issues at this point. However, Uncle Sigh may be the horse that presents the best value in the win pool come post time, in my opinion. Consensus was that Wicked Strong made the better appearance of the two. Speculation is that he is going to be the second choice. Really? Just off the Wood, in which everything went his way after his two lackluster – at best, in one case; with excuses in the other – efforts at Gulfstream? If so, he would be the most overbet horse in the field as far as I’m concerned. Personally, I don’t think he’ll hit the board.
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