Hopper Edges Clear for G3 Oaklawn Mile Score

April 1, 2023

Under steady handling by John Velazquez, Hopper edges clear in his first race and victory outside of California. (Coady Photography)

Oaklawn Park Press Release

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Hopper made his first start outside of California a winning one as he drew away from his competition to win Saturday’s $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for owners Lanni Bloodstock, Madaket Stables LLC and SF Racing LLC.

Hopper, with John Velazquez in the irons, stalked the pace from third early as Atoka led the field through opening fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 3/5 for the first half mile. The winner and Caddo River began to engage the pace setter around the turn for home with the later taking the narrow advantage, but he was unable to hold off Hopper, who drew off to win by 1 ¾ lengths. Smile Happy, the 6-5 favorite, got up for third after being last at one point in the race. The winning time was 1:37 3/5 for one mile over a fast track.

Hopper, a 4-year-old Declaration of War colt trained by Bob Baffert, improved his record to three wins from six starts and has now earned $419,000. He returned $4.80, $3 and $2.20 as the 7-5 second choice. 

Live racing resumes Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. first post. 

Stakes Quotes

Winning trainer Bob Baffert by phone (Hopper): “That was the plan and it worked out. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. (Asked about removing blinkers for the Oaklawn Mile) I think he’s just learning how to run. He’s a big, strong horse. 

“The first time we ran without blinkers, the rider said he got beat because he was looking around, but I think he just got tired. I put the blinkers on him (for the March 4 Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles) and he was just really wanting to be a little rank and he got tired. Came back and worked really well. After his work, I thought, ‘You know what? This would be a good spot for him.’ So, I backed him up a little bit. Looks like a steady horse that can go a mile and a quarter. He’s bred to go a mile and a half, a mile and a quarter, but he’s got speed. So, I think he’s just figuring it out. These were good horses, tough horses.”

Winning assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes (Hopper): “This is one of our favorite spots on the tour. We just told him (Johnny Velazquez) to get him out of the gate, don’t chase, and see what happens. It sure worked out for him.”

Winning jockey John Velazquez (Hopper): “It worked out the way we thought. He broke from the outside. Coming from the outside, he was a little slow the first two jumps. He got into the race pretty easily going into the first turn. Got into the position I wanted, just kind of sat and waited for the other horses to come to him. And he put up a good fight.”

(First time you’d ridden him) “He definitely has a lot of talent. He obviously hasn’t run very much. He’s still learning. Like even when he came down the lane, he’s looking at the infield and drifting out a little bit. I tried to keep his mind on business, and he got it done.”

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, second with Caddo River: “We ran second to a good bunch of horses. I thought at the top of the stretch we might get them. Made that little move and thought we might have them. Got beat by a better horse, maybe.”

Kenny McPeek (trainer, third-place and beaten 6-5 favorite Smile Happy): “It was a good run. He had a tricky trip. The 3 (Hero Status) kind of stopped in front of him and he had to try to wiggle his way through. Look, we knew the first finish line was going to tricky. But he’s a tough horse to train. He’s an Alpha, and we felt we were better off running him than trying to fight him to train. He’ll probably come back in the (G2) Alysheba at Churchill. That was the plan, (this was) kind of a one-mile paid workout. He needs more ground, though.”

While McPeek said Smile Happy wouldn’t run in the Oaklawn Handicap, “I’ve got Classic Causeway for that race.”

Francisco Arrieta (jockey, Smile Happy): “He just came back from a long layoff. This is a nice horse. I think if it was a mile and a sixteenth, I get it. I had a little trouble from the half-mile to the quarter pole. I found a spot finally, and he came running.

That was a phenomenal article Jonathan. Thank you for writing it and sharing it. Ruffian was my second love (after Man O' War) and I simply cannot stop the tears from falling every time I read about this magnificent black beauty.

Maria Schlemmer Ackerman View testimonials

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