Haskin's Derby Report: A Whopper for Hopper

There are heavy rains, torrential rains, and the rain that all but drowned Churchill Downs Monday morning. The lightning came fast and furious; one bolt knocked out light, and the flooding came just as fast. Some of the thunder claps were so loud and strong, several horses became noticeably spooked. But not at Todd Pletcher’s barn, where “spooked” and “upset” are not acceptable words. The serenity of Pletcher’s barn supersedes all.

Pletcher jogged his four Derby workers from Sunday, and Danza, Intense Holiday, Vinceremos, and We Miss Artie all returned to the barn just as the skies opened up. All of them calmly walked the shed and were unfazed by the light show outside and the crashing of thunder.

Over at Bob Baffert’s barn, not even a biblical storm was enough to stop Baffert from sending out Hoppertunity for a half-mile breeze. Baffert arrived at about 6:30 and was joined by his brother Bill and Hoppertunity’s owners Mike Pegram, Paul Weitman, and Karl Watson. The question was what to do about the work? Baffert had been fretting about it and had contemplated waiting for Tuesday and hoping for a good track.

But when the heavy rain dissipated to a light shower and the lightning moved off and the loose track from yesterday had actually become packed down, Baffert decided to use the window of opportunity, or Hoppertunity, to work his colt over a track that somehow was in pretty good shape.

Hoppertunity was saddled up and got ready to head to the track accompanied by Baffert’s favorite workmate Drill, who had uncharacteristically flubbed his assignment last time and provided no help as a prompter. So this was an important test for the colt. Jockey Martin Garcia returned from his work aboard Kentucky Oaks contender Ria Antonia and hopped right on Hoppertunity. As they were making their way to the track, Garcia jumped off to adjust the colt’s saddle equipment, and then was given a leg back up by trainer Phil Thomas.

Baffert’s move proved once again why he has such a keen eye and sense of timing, as Hoppertunity turned in a solid half-mile breeze in :48, breaking off a couple of lengths behind Drill. Hoppertunity was well out toward the middle of the track, while Drill remained down on the rail.

Hoppertunity eased back toward the inside to engage Drill and the pair came home together and galloped out very strong as a team until Hoppertunity began to ease clear down the backstretch.

Garcia returned beaming, saying Hoppertunity felt like “a million dollars,” adding that he was just galloping the entire way and was playing with Drill.

Baffert stepped out of car with a broad grin on his face. “How about that Drill?” he said, thrilled that the speedy Drill was back to his old self and was able to provide the necessary competition for Hoppertunity.

So Baffert not only got in his work, he got in a terrific work that can allow him to now relax and enjoy the festivities of Derby Week with brother Bill, his one-man entourage Bernie Schiappa (co-owner of Game On Dude), and Pegram, Weitman, and Watson. No one knows how to enjoy Derby week more than that bunch.

Earlier in the morning, Steve Asmussen sent out Tapiture for a half-mile breeze in :50, which the colt accomplished in a driving rain.

Mike Maker switched schedules this morning, and because Vicar’s in Trouble and Harry’s Holiday were only jogging, Maker decided to wait to see how the track was before sending General a Rod out for his gallop. The colt seemed perplexed by the change and was getting fidgety in his stall, trying to nail anyone who walked by. General a Rod finally did go out just before Hoppertunity worked. He most likely will have his final Derby work tomorrow, with Wednesday being an option if the track is in bad shape.

Uncle Sigh had an easy gallop in blinkers. He will wear them in the Derby, and although a major equipment change in the Derby is something that many frown upon, this colt did look awfully good working in them several days ago, and he has the disposition to avoid falling victim to whatever it was that lit an uncontrollable fire under Palace Malice last year with first-time blinkers.

Because there was so little activity this morning, I will cut this a bit short and head back to the track to greet California Chrome and Dance With Fate, who are scheduled to arrive from California early in the afternoon.

On Sunday afternoon, trainer Jimmy Jerkens, after having scouted out the immediate area, took Wicked Strong out to graze outside Lynn Whiting’s barn, the only available grass close by. Although the colt used to be a nervous type and didn’t carry much weight, grazing seems to have helped him, and he was calm and relaxed throughout. Jerkens said he’s put on weight and is much more robust now.

All photos are by Steve Haskin, please ask before taking. 

Jimmy Jerkens grazes Wicked Strong Sunday afternoon

General a Rod is trying to figure why everyone is going out ahead of him this morning

The rain was so hard you could barely see the horses on the track

You want lightning, it was pitch dark when I took this photo

Danza had mild curiosity about the sheets of rain whipping across the backside

Lake Churchill

Martin Garcia adjusts Hoppertunity's saddle on way to track

Hoppertunity and Drill pulling up after their work

Hoppertunity is looking great and doing everything right


Leave a Comment:

Sail On

Lake Churchill, gotta love it!

28 Apr 2014 2:01 PM

Steve, have you seen California Chrome and Dance With Fate yet ?. Love the "Lake Churchill" shot.

28 Apr 2014 2:12 PM
food fight

I hope we get a fast track for the Derby so there can be a true race result with no one saying the slop beat there horse. Having said this i don't think slop will stop Hoppertunity he has already won the Rebel stakes on an off track and looks like he worked real good this morning on the off track at Churchill Downs.I think i got the setup Chitu will try to soften up CC and Hopper will pounce turning for home.

28 Apr 2014 2:30 PM
Sam Santschi

Thanks Steve although I'm so on the fence with Hopp!

28 Apr 2014 2:59 PM
Mister Frisky

Hoppertunity looks great,would be shocked if he doesn't hit the board Saturday.

28 Apr 2014 3:32 PM

Steve, it seems from what I've been hearing is that Intense Holiday and Hoppertunity has really taken to the Churchill surface the best and both seem to be full of energy, and earlier I heard that Ride on Curlin and Medal Count was doing very well also since arriving at Churchill, do you agree and anybody else to add?

Looking forward to your selections.

28 Apr 2014 3:54 PM

Appreciate the day-by-day information and photos, Steve. Have you had the chance to see Calif. Chrome and/or Dance With Fate up close, yet ?. Wonder what your impressions will be.

28 Apr 2014 3:57 PM


Is Hoppertunity "longer" from head to tail than the average thoroughbred? To my eye he looks like he takes up a lot of space.. Thanks. BTW, you could have a career as a photographer if this writing thing doesn't work out :)

28 Apr 2014 4:05 PM

Thanks Steve.  I feel much more confident with Hoppertunity after his work today and the way he took to the track.  Also like Wicked Strong's gallop--looking good.  

28 Apr 2014 4:46 PM

Dear Steve, Thanks for your wonderful stories and photographs that make me long for my old life on the backstretch. Please take a moment, get out of the rain, and take my survey to help me complete my masters' thesis. I would love your opinions! Good racing luck always.


28 Apr 2014 5:35 PM
The Peacock

Night pics and report, Steve. Hoppertunity looks Great!

Repeating my question from your Chrome article. Can it be that easy?

28 Apr 2014 6:37 PM
Ted from LA

Hoppertunity, Wicked Strong, California Chrome, Medal Count, Intense Holiday.

28 Apr 2014 6:53 PM

Steve, Hoppertunity does look good and was impressive in his workout but so was Tapiture in his workout - he may be swinging right back into form. Even so, the post draw seems more crucial than ever this year.

Untapable has been the most impressive work though, like a volcano ready to erupt, let's hope the lava flows during the Oaks and not before. Cool photos.

28 Apr 2014 7:40 PM

Stay safe Steve and sending prayers that everyone and the horses are all safe during these dangerous storms that are approaching us.

28 Apr 2014 8:24 PM
Max Figueredo

Does anyone know if General a Rod has been sold?  I still like the Fl horses and the Wood Winner. Hoppertunity looks awesome and I like the way he has trained for the Derby.  So with no particular order of finish yet, my 4 finishers are General a Rod, Hoppertunity, Wicked Strong and Wildcat Red.

28 Apr 2014 8:44 PM
Mike from Michigan

Steve, thank you for all the great trackside reports this past week and for the nice pictures too.  Kind of makes us feel like were are right there at the Twin Spires.  Anyway, from everything I have read, Untapable seems like she is doing great and handling the track surface well.  Obviously, she has a very tough race to run Friday against some very talented fillies.  But, just for the sake of conversation, how do you think she would do against the boys if she ran in the Derby? Thanks.

28 Apr 2014 9:16 PM

The b uzz horses this week are Danza and Intense Holiday; still surprised CC and Wicked are coming this late to the dance. Holiday got the press yesterday because of how poorly Artie looked, Danza's overall times were better and he's gained weight and his coat looks great. For the race, Danza is versatile, as is Hoppertunity and they will run well in any pace scenario. Everyone is talking about a fast pace; look at the fractions from the last preps; I don't see it unless Uncle Sigh pulls a Palace malice w/ the blinkers (fastest were Sunland and SA and those tracks are parking lots), I see the fractions being a modest 23+, 47, 111+ in which case the stalkers and mid-packers roll; if the pace is fast, the mid-ackers (like Intense) and deep closers (Medal Count, Wicked, Dance) could be in business. I don't see CC winning.

28 Apr 2014 9:35 PM
Paula Higgins

Boy you're not kidding about Lake Churchill! Pretty scary weather allover the south last night and today into tomorrow. It seems like most of the horses are running reall well on the track. Good to see. No surprise that Bob Baffert has him tuned to the max.

28 Apr 2014 9:42 PM

These photos and articles are a real treat.  Danza and Hoppertunity look the best to me so far.  Steve you are doing a great job bringing all this stuff to us.

California Chrome has arrived at Churchill no worse from the plane trip.  He seemed to be scared to dismount from the plane but they got it under control.  After all it was a brand new experience for him and he is taking it all in.  They should have brought the quarter horse with him!  But I am assuming last night California Chrome got his last minute Derby strategy instructions from his bud at Los Al, the quarter horse!  At Los Al on Saturday night I was watching TVG and they had Victor Espinosa on and Art Sherman signing giveaway California Chrome posters!  It was California Chrome night at Los Al over the weekend on Sat. night!  Cool.  

Right now my top 3 are Danza, California Chrome, and Hoppertunity, not necessarily in that order.

28 Apr 2014 10:48 PM

Steve Haskin :  What's your schedule like since you arrived there.  Seems like you're up in the wee hours of the morning and I mean really early since you have to drive to the track from your hotel room.  I always read about the early morning workouts but seeing the pictures really shows how busy things are.  Also, what are the festivities during the week ?  Is there like a hall where owners / trainers / jockeys mingle and socialize ?  Someday, I'll make it to the Kentucky Derby and I'll make sure to stay the whole week prior to the Derby, seems like the best time to enjoy the horses....maybe I can get a press pass if I carry your camera bag and coffee for you (which I will do without any question!)

As good looking as Hoppertunity looks in that photo, I think the rain made him look godly ... I'm not falling for his good looks!  I'm still not playing him for W/P...I just hope I'm not wrong in tossing him.

Read somewhere that WMA and Vinceremos are most likely going to run in the Derby.   Apparently, Ramsey disregarded Pletcher's thoughts of WMA not going to handle the dirt, so he's in.

Anxiously awaiting for Samraat to arrive and see some photos of him and hear about his gallops, not sure if he's scheduled to have a workout at all.

California Chrome's van ride video is pretty cool, he had this look of a  poor boy who's worth a million dollars.  His demeanor seems like the humble but not weak type.  

"Lake Churchill" :  Is that what a sealed track looks like ?

28 Apr 2014 11:06 PM
Derby Dew


Thanks for bearing up under the elements Monday to catch Hoppertunity's work.  He really does seem content at Churchill and goes about his works and gallops with enthusiasm.   I'm getting more confident in his chances on Saturday.  Hey, if Bob Baffert's smiling, then I'm happy.

Also, enjoyed the pictures of Hoppertunity.  You're getting really good with these photos.  Hope your boss at BloodHorse gives you a little extra bonus for the great shots that you're getting.  With your writing and photos, I feel like I'm right there without having to get up early and drive to Churchill from Lexington.  Thanks, Steve.  Great job.

29 Apr 2014 4:22 AM
Pedigree Ann

Mike from that state up north - looks like there is more than one Buckeye on this board. I'm not technically one myself, but both of my kids were born within a couple miles of The Horseshoe when the hubby was a prof in Columbus. Nothing like a Big Ten football game.

29 Apr 2014 10:10 AM

Steve: keep the track-side (lake-side?) comments coming.

I would also like to agree with Mike from Michigan's question about Untappable.  Does she look good enough to pull a Rachel in the Preakness?

29 Apr 2014 11:22 AM
Lise from Maine

Hi Steve,

The "Serg" on TVG changed his mind yesterday regarding California Chrome being his favorite to Hoppertunity.

He claimed that Hoppertunity had a great workout.

I am looking at Chitu to bet on too.

Interesting to see that California Chrome had to be backed out from the plane, etc.

Love the photos.

Still deciding on who to bet on.

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

29 Apr 2014 12:44 PM
Lise from Maine

Hi Steve!

I love those photos.

Can I copy them?

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

29 Apr 2014 12:46 PM


 I'll go JayJay one better, and carry your camera bag, coffee and you on my back through any mud puddles along the way.

29 Apr 2014 2:42 PM
Old Old Cat

It was a dark and stormy night,

and God said, "Steve Haskins wants to photograph,

You want light?"


Sorry, I couldn't resist.

29 Apr 2014 4:39 PM
Greg R

It's so nice to get an inside peek at the goings-on there at Ch.  Sure hope that's the last of the hard rain.  How bad does a colt's post position draw have to be for you to drop him in your rankings?  If Cal Chrome draws number two, for instance, would you want to make a new pick?

30 Apr 2014 12:08 AM
Lise from Maine



It is "the sarge" and not the "serj" on TVG.

Sorry for the mistake.

Still deciding on who to bet on.

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

01 May 2014 7:10 AM

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