Hoppertunity wins Jockey Club Gold Cup; Breeders’ Cup next

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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.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”