While Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was still sorting out his potential Kentucky Derby lineup late Wednesday afternoon, he surprised onlookers at Churchill Downs by sending out his surefire hopeful for a tightener.
In a move that came days earlier than expected, Baffert worked Grade II Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity 5 furlongs in company in 1:00.20 over the Churchill track Wednesday.
Working in company with Drill, a 5-year-old multiple graded stakes winner, Hoppertunity recorded fractions of :12.40, :24.40, :36.20 and galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:13.20, seven-eighths in 1:26.60 and a mile in 1:41.60 with jockey Rosie Napravnik up. The move was the second-fastest of 15 at the distance.
Hoppertunity heads into the Kentucky Derby off a runner-up finish behind California Chrome in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 5. That effort was designed to give Hoppertunity seasoning more than anything as it marked just his fifth career start, having not raced as a juvenile.
"I was happy with the work," Baffert said. "I thought it went well even though the workmate didn't put up much of a fight and lost interest. "He is a laid-back horse and he is not going to wow you. He is just a steady horse and he moves well over the track. We know he can run."
Baffert entered both Chitu, winner of the Sunland Derby, and Bayern, third in the Grade I Arkansas Derby, in Saturday's Grade III Derby Trial but was still deciding who would actually start in that race. The Daily Racing Form reported Wednesday that Baffert planned to scratch Chitu and start him in the Kentucky Derby and would monitor Derby defections throughout the week before deciding to start Bayern Saturday or see if he could get into the Derby field.
General a Rod works
General a Rod, third in the Grade I Florida Derby, recorded his first official work at Churchill Downs in preparation for his expected start in the Kentucky Derby, covering 5 furlongs in 1:03.40 with splits of :13, :26.20, 39 and out 6 furlongs in 1:17.60 with exercise rider Joel Barrientos up for trainer Mike Maker.
General a Rod's work came after the morning renovation break and was followed by Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Vicar's in Trouble, who galloped.
"General a Rod had a routine, maintenance work, so we'll work him back in six days and go from there," Maker said.