Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Justin Manning
In a race that already includes Strong Mandate, my current top pick for the 2014 Kentucky Derby, not to mention last-out rompers, Tapiture and Kobe’s Back, you would think I might shy away from looking for a longer shot in Saturday’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. Not so. I actually see an opportunity to make some moolah in the Oaklawn Park feature. Did I say opportunity? I should say, a Hoppertunity.
48 hours from now, I could easily see the Bob Baffert trained son of Any Given Saturday being hailed as the “now horse” after surprising a strong field in Hot Springs.
Hoppertunity looks, and is bred, to be a good one. Out of the Unaccounted For mare, Refugee, he is a half-brother to the high class Executiveprivilege. Snatched out of September’s Keeneland Sale of 2-year-olds in training for $300,000, Hoppertunity only has three lifetime starts to his credit. Unraced as a juvenile, he bounced quickly back from a slow break debut, in which he finished 5th in a race won by the highly regarded Bayern, to trounce a field of maidens going one mile at Santa Anita at the end of January. Next came a jump right into grade 2 stakes company.
Bet down to 4-1 in the Risen Star Stakes three weeks ago at Fair Grounds, Hoppertunity fell victim to the large 14 horse field in his stakes debut. Shuffled and forced farther back than his connections wanted, I thought the lightly raced colt did awfully well to rally for fourth that day.
Those betting on the Rebel might not agree with me considering the final margin of seven lengths. The assumption may be that Hoppertunity is not good enough to handle the class of the Rebel, and let him go near his juicy morning line odds of 10-1. I believe there is plenty of reason to look at the result of the Risen Star as a positive, rather than a negative, though.
Hopefully, the young horse learned a lot from his ordeal in New Orleans. The fact that he passed most of the ten horses he beat in the Risen Star after having a tough start to the race, tells me a great deal. Plenty of horses with such little experience would have called it a day after encountering trouble in such a big field. His effort to get in the picture for the show, makes me feel good about both his talent and his determination. Sure, he wasn’t close to the winner, but with the experience he earned from that one, a little improvement in his fourth career race, and the probability of a better trip, you can see why I consider him a very live longshot.
One more thing I like about Hoppertunity, and this is not meant to be a slight to Martin Garcia, but picking up the talents of the Hall of Famer Mike Smith, could be huge. Fresh off dominating the Big Cap with another Baffert charge, Game on Dude last weekend, Smitty should come to Arkansas with all the confidence in the world. He also should help the young colt continue his rapid learning cycle that could ultimately see him in the Kentucky Derby starting gate in seven weeks.
Strong Mandate remains my top pick on Saturday, but you better believe I will be boxing him with Hoppertunity, in hopes of having a reason to let out a rebel yell after cashing in big in the Rebel.