Hoppertunity out of Cougar II Handicap with Fever, Hard Aces In

July 22, 2016 12:27pm
Hoppertunity wins 2015 San Pasqual.
Photo: Benoit Photo

Hoppertunity, the 7-5 morning line favorite for Sunday’s Grade III $100,000 Cougar II Handicap, was scratched Friday morning, reducing the field to five and moving Hard Aces to 8-5 favoritism on the morning line.

“(Hoppertunity) ran a little temperature yesterday, but he looks good today,” trainer Bob Baffert said Friday morning. “I’m pretty disappointed because he was doing so well. I don’t know what his next (race) might be. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Baffert has used the 1 ½-mile Cougar II as a prep for the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic for horses in the past, most notably with Richard’s Kid in 2009, the first of back-to-back Classic wins for the runner, and the race annually produces a Classic starter or two.

Hoppertunity, a 5-year-old son of Any Given Saturday owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and  Paul Weitman, finished third to California Chrome in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March and fourth to Melatonin in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in June.

With the declaration of pre-race favorite Hoppertunity because of a fever, 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita winner Hard Aces has inherited the favorite’s role in Sunday’sGrade III $100,000 Cougar II Handicap at a mile one-half over Del Mar’s main track.

Hard Aces, the new highweight at 122 pounds, will have Santiago Gonzalez in the saddle versus four rivals – Infobedad, 114, Joe Talamo; Energia Fribby, 114, Drayden Van Dyke; Seve’s Road, 117, Rafael Bejarano, and Quick Casablanca, 120, Tyler Baze.

Hard Aces, a son of Hard Spun trained by John Sadler, scored the most important victory of his career when he won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, nosing out Hoppertunity. However, the six-year-old stretch-runner is winless in his last nine although he has performed creditably in nothing but stakes races. Most recently, he was third to Melatonin in the 2016 renewal of the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

Heading the opposition is the distance-loving Chilean-bred Quick Casablanca. Trained by Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, Quick Casablanca won the marathon San Juan Capistrano on the grass in April at Santa Anita. He was a winner on the dirt in Chile prior to his importation to America.

Co-featured on Sunday’s ten-race program is the $150,000 California Dreamin Stakes for California-bred older horses. Entered are Magic Mark, Ambitious Brew, Boozer, Somethings Unusual, Alert Bay, Patriots Rule, Poshsky, Soi Phet and Avanti Bello. The race is carded at a mile and one-sixteenth on the grass.

The field for the Cougar II: Infobedad (Joe Talamo, 15-1), Energia Fribby (Drayden Van Dyke, 10-1), Seve’s Road (Rafael Bejarano, 8-1), Hard Aces (Santiago Gonzalez, 8-5) and Quick Casablanca (Tyler Baze, 4-1).

Post Time for the first race is 2 p.m.
Saturday’s Grade II $200,000 San Clemente Handicap has been largely overshadowed in the build-up for California Chrome’s San Diego Handicap two races later on the program. And overshadowed is also an appropriate term for the case of 3-year-old filly Stays in Vegas compared to champion stablemate Songbird.

With Songbird away at Saratoga for Sunday’s $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, the San Clemente could be a coming out party for Stays In Vegas, the daughter of City Zip owned in part by the Jungle Racing LLC Stable of sports talk radio host Jim Rome.

“It (San Clemente) is always a good race every year and we have a filly that’s coming into it perfectly,” said Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “She’s a remarkably consistent filly, never runs a bad race and it looks like we have some speed in front of us.  Having it start in the stretch, rather than the chute, we should be able to maneuver and get over from the No. 10 post and save some ground.

“He (Alex Solis) knows her and he’s very confident. He’ll ride her well.”

In compiling earnings of $319,600, Stays in Vegas has a record of 5-1-1 from eight lifetime starts. Her only off-the-board result was in last year’s Del Mar Debutante where the first three finishers were Songbird, Pretty N Cool and Land Over Sea, the latter two also becoming major stakes winners.

Stays In Vegas won the Grade III Senorita in May at Santa Anita and was a close-up third in the Grade II Honeymoon in June.
Twenty Thoroughbreds, all capable of being purchased and raced at the current Del Mar meeting,  will be offered to bidders after the last race Saturdayat the fifth annual Barretts Paddock Sale.

The horses range from 2-to-5 year olds. They include nine first-time starters, three stakes winners. By state of breeding there are nine from Kentucky, nine from California and one each from Louisiana and Ohio.

The sale will begin approximately 20 minutes after the 10th and final race. Besides the potential runners it will also feature a “California Chrome package” as the first item of the night. Offered will be the silks that Victor Espinoza will wear earlier in the day aboard 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome in the San Diego Handicap and several other “Chrome related” items with the proceeds going to the Jimmy V Foundation’s cancer cure efforts.

Veteran jockey agent Tom Knust, who has guided the careers of some of the top riders in the country and currently calls the shots for Kentucky Derby-winning Mario Gutierrez, will be the guest expert for Saturday’s handicapping seminar.

On Sunday, Jason Perry, the lead analyst for the racing and handicapping site Shapper Dacapper, will provide his take on the program as the guest of Scott Shapiro.

The seminars are conducted at the track’s Seaside Terrace area on the tarmac near the head of the stretch. They begin at 12:45 and continue to approximately 1:30 p.m.
CLOSERS – Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr., recently relocated from being based in the east,  notched the first Del Mar victory of his career aboard Freddies Dream ($26.00) in Thursday’s third race for trainer Andy Mathis. “The vibe (from California horsemen) has been very good since I got here and it got even better after the (winning) race,” Arroyo said. “I feel very blessed.” … Selected works from 102 officially timed Friday morning: Luminance (4f, :48.80), Papacoolpapacool  (4f, :48.60), Sensitively (5f, :59.80).

Source: Del Mar Thoroughbred Club


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