NEW YORK — Hoppertunity, trained by Bob Baffert, made a successful trip from California to Belmont Park on Saturday to win the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup and secure a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
He will once again face California Chrome in the $6 million Classic, Nov. 5 at Santa Anita. California Chrome has already beaten Hoppertunity three times this year, most recently in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August.
Baffert opted for a change of venue, and it paid off with a half length win over Effinex.
“We always thought in our minds that he would like these big turns here and this big, deep track where he would have a chance to come from behind,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant trainer who accompanied the horse.
Hoppertunity saved ground for most of the 1 1/4 miles as Effinex and Protonico set the pace. John Velazquez angled Hoppertunity three wide for the stretch drive and the 5-year-old responded with his sixth win in 22 starts.
The time was 2:00.63, and Hoppertunity paid $9.60, $4 and $2.60.
Effinex, the 6-5 favorite, returned $3 and $2.20. Protonico held on for third, paying $3.80.
Mubtaahij was fourth followed by Watershed.
Trainer Chad Brown was the big winner on the second of Belmont’s Super Saturdays of prep races leading to the Breeders’ Cup.
Brown won three stakes, including a 1-2-3 sweep in the $500,000 Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf as Camelot Kitten ($8 to win) edged Beach Patrol with Annals of Time third.
Irad Ortiz Jr. guided Camelot Kitten to his fifth win in 10 starts.
Practical Joke ($7.90) insured Brown would have a starter in the $2 million Juvenile with a hard-fought victory by a nose in the $500,000 Champagne for 2-year-olds with Joel Rosario in the saddle.
He will head to Santa Anita with a 3-for-3 record.
It was a tough week to be a Syndergaard. First Noah Syndergaard and Mets lost to the Giants in the NL Wildcard game.
Then his namesake Syndergaard was second in the photo finish of the Champagne.
In Brown’s most heartwarming moment, Lady Eli ($3.70) captured the first race in her comeback from a major illness, and nailed down a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup, with a three-quarters of a length win over Sentiero Italia in the $500,000 Flower Bowl for older fillies and mares on the turf.
Lady Eli, winner of the 2014 Juvenile Fillies Turf, will compete this time in the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf. She missed over a year recovering from a potentially fatal bout of laminitis, a foot disease.
Lady Eli returned in late August to run second in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga.
It was the fourth Flower Bowl win in the last six years for Brown.
In other stakes results: Yellow Agate ($4.70) secured a spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with a head victory over Libby’s Tail in the $400,000 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies.
She is 2 for 2 in her brief career for the team of trainer Christophe Clement and jockey Manny Franco.
—Anchor Down ($6.40) set the pace on his way to two-length win in the $350,000 Kelso for milers.
Javier Castellano was aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher as the gray 5-year-old posted the biggest win of his career. Pletcher said the next start would be the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.
—Pure Sensation ($6.30) edged Power Alert by a head in the $150,000 Turf Sprint Invitational.