Hoppertunity Odds to Win the 2014 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/9/2014
It seems like the horses in California are particularly strong this year on the Triple Crown trail. California Chrome is likely to be the Derby favorite, but he is far from the only real West Coast contender. Among the more intriguing possibilities is Hoppertunity. The Santa Anita Derby runner-up provides interesting value at Sportsbook.ag at +2500. He has 95 Kentucky Derby points, so he has a spot in the Derby starting gate if he wants it - and he can stay healthy until the first Saturday in May. So, is there any value in this horse at that price? Here are six factors for handicappers to consider:
Experience: The Curse of Apollo is one of the most established trends in all of sports. In 1882 Apollo won the Kentucky Derby without previously racing as a two year old. Since then many horses have tried to replicate that feat, but none have pulled it off. The depth of experience and fitness earned by racing at two has proven to be more important than almost anything else when it comes to winning this race. And that is where the biggest problem arises for this horse - though he has raced five times, all came in this calendar year. Thoroughbreds all have their birthday on Jan. 1, so when he made his first start on Jan. 4 he was three - if only barely. Sooner or later a horse is going to reverse that trend - it seems an increasing number try every year - but until it happens, it's risky to bet against an overwhelming amount of history.
While the lack of a two year old race is not at all positive, the five races is less black and white. Having that much experience is a positive - he has learned to deal with adversity like you only can in a race situation. He has raced a whole lot in a short time, though, so there is a chance that he could be worn out even before the Triple Crown begins.
Trainer: Bob Baffert knows a thing or two about the Kentucky Derby. He has won the Kentucky Derby three times. His last Derby win was in 2002, but he has had plenty of strong runners since - in 2012, for example, he finished second in all three Triple Crown races. After some weaker years, Baffert is back at the top of his game - he won two Breeders' Cup races in the fall and has been tough to beat in California. He has been particularly effective with Mike Pegram, the co-owner of this horse. Pegram and Baffert won the Derby and Preakness with Real Quiet in 1998 and the Preakness in 2010 with Lookin at Lucky - along with dozens of other top races.
Jockey: Mike Smith has been aboard for the last two races the horse has had, and he is likely to stay aboard for the Derby. That is far from a bad thing for this horse. Smith is no spring chicken - he's 48 - but he is riding as well as he ever has in big races. He won the Belmont, Kentucky Oaks, and three Breeders' Cup races last year, and he won his second consecutive Santa Anita Handicap already this year. He has won the Derby once, and is more than capable of doing it again.
Breeding: Hoppertunity's breeding is solid, but it's not perfect. His sire is Any Given Saturday. That horse was a well-beaten eighth in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He beat Curlin in the Haskell Invitational later that summer, though, so he had obvious talent. He never proved that he was capable of handling the classic distance, though, so on the sire side stamina is an issue. It's far less of a concern on the dam side, though - his damsire is the great A.P. Indy, one of the best stamina sires of all time. In short, then, he doesn't have perfect breeding for the massive challenge of the Derby, but there will be horses with worse bloodlines.
The Santa Anita Derby: In his final prep race, Hoppertunity was soundly beaten by California Chrome. He finished 5 1/4 lengths back. That could be reason to doubt this horse, but it's less of an issue when you look at context. He was running back in just three weeks after a win in the Rebel Stakes. Baffert had considered training up to the Kentucky Derby off of that effort, but a layoff that long heading into the Derby scared him, so he pointed at the Santa Anita Derby. With four races already under his belt this year, though, running at full effort in this race was likely not a priority for Baffert. The horse already had enough points that he was going to be able to make the Kentucky Derby field without the Santa Anita Derby points. It was more important to be sharpened and to gain some more racing experience than to necessarily put out his best effort and try to win at the expense of the race that matters. At the very least, he has a potential excuse in the race for the second-place showing.
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