Fans lined the rail at Los Alamitos Race Course in California last Saturday to catch a glimpse of the star of Kentucky Derby 140, California Chrome, during his work.
The sturdy chestnut is a race fan’s delight, a throwback kind of horse who beckons the limelight with his stunning looks and top talent.
There’s room at the top, however, and the fan base for another Derby contender is growing daily. Hoppertunity, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, isn’t as flashy as his rival, but he has garnered attention with his hard-trying efforts on the Derby trail. Adding to the appeal is the fact he’s trained superbly since arriving at Churchill Downs on Monday, including an eye-catching work on Wednesday.
It also helps he has a catchy name - one that wasn’t his original moniker. Hoppertunity was first known as “Anyway U Way.” The horse was renamed in honor of friends of Baffert’s wife Jill. Their last name is Hopper.
“(Hoppertunity) is a word the Hoppers use commonly, so it’s a good horse name,” Baffert said. “It’s got a pretty good ring to it. People seem to be catching on.
“Six months ago, he wasn’t really on the radar. All of sudden he’s come around.”
Hoppertunity faces a tall task in the Derby since he didn’t race at age two. The last horse to win the Run for the Roses without a start at two was Apollo in 1882.
Although history isn’t in his favor, there’s a lot to like about the bay colt, who is owned by Mike Pegram (who also owned 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet), Karl Watson and Paul Weitman. He shipped out of California, where he started his career, and was a solid late-running fourth in the Grade 2 Risen Star. He followed up with an impressive win in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park.
But California Chrome proved too tough in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Hoppertunity, following behind him in second, couldn’t catch the phenom, who expanded his lead in the stretch with each stride.
The rematch awaits on May 3, and it’s possible these rivals could be the top two betting choices in their toughest test yet.
“California Chrome is an extremely fast horse and he just keeps on running,” Baffert said. “We know we’re within five lengths of him, so we just have to close the gap a little bit going a mile and a quarter.”