HOPPERTUNITY AND A HAYMAKER FOR THE WORLD CUP
Thoroughbred racehorse Hoppertunity and former heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner have some things in common. But come March 26, the connections for this five-year old son of Any Given Saturday hopes some of that changes.
Much like the “Bayonne Bleeder”, Hoppertunity has been willing to stand toe to toe with the best. Wepner endured losses to Buster Mathis, Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and Muhammed Ali in a career that began in the mid 1960’s and culminated in 1978. The five-year old Kentucky-bred has been in 15 graded stakes during his 18 race career. While the former Marine finished with a 35-14-2 record while battling gamely throughout, the Bob Baffert trained horse has five wins to his credit, but has finished in the top three 14 times. Finishing behind greats like Beholder, California Chrome, and Shared Belief tells us he has been in tough. Like Wepner, he always battles.
“He always brings it,” says Baffert. “The one thing you can count on from him is a solid effort every time out. He needs certain things to happen in order to win, but he always tries and is running at the end.”
Wepner’s most notable fight was his battle with then heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali on March 24, 1975. Not given any kind of real chance, the New Jersey native knocked Ali down in the ninth round but was later victim to a technical knockout with only 19 seconds remaining in the bout. Believed to have inspired the movie Rocky, Wepner was a heavy underdog that went in fighting to win. People told him the champ was going to kill him. The determined Wepner simply replied “if I can survive the Marines I can survive Ali”.
Hoppertunity gets his chance to climb in the ring with Apollo Creed on March 26 when he starts in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. With big timers like California Chrome, Frosted, and Keen Ice slated to start along with other classy runners from around the globe, this is a chance to shake up the world for sure.
“There is no doubt the race is going to be really tough,” says Baffert. “But hey, we want a shot at a piece of that $10 million pie.”
Baffert and his team have every right to think their warrior has a chance here. The hall of fame conditioner has won the race twice before (Silver Charm 1998, Captain Steve 2001) so traveling to the desert paradise is nothing new. In his two starts this year, Hoppertunity finished a late running third in the San Pasqual Stakes behind California Chrome and then won the San Antonio Stakes with another gritty effort to the wire. His latest work at Santa Anita on March 2 saw him run like he stole something as he finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.60. Apparently ready for the ring, Ali and the rest should beware as a Hoppertunity haymaker is on the way.
“He likes the mile and a quarter distance and the track is usually deep which plays into our favor for sure,” says Baffert. “He sits off the pace and runs at the end. We just need a little racing luck and him to be him. He’s a fighter with a chance.”