Summer at the Spa draws to a close on Monday. The meet ends on a hopeful note...quite literally, as the day's feature race is the Grade I Hopeful Stakes.
A fixture at Saratoga since 1904, the Hopeful is the first Grade I of the season for two-year-old open company. This year, it is first by a mere few hours, as the Del Mar Futurity (GI) runs the same day. Initially a six-furlong sprint, it was extended to six and a half in 1925, and to its current seven in 1994. The first Hopeful winner, the filly Tanya, won the Belmont the next year. Over the years, its winners' list has read like an honor roll of racing history. The two greatest American racehorses of the 20th Century both won the Hopeful: Man o' War (1919) and Secretariat (1972). The list of great Hopeful winners continues through the century: Regret (1914), Whirlaway (1940), Native Dancer (1952), Buckpasser (1965), and Affirmed (1977) all won the race. Though it has been a fruitful source of Classic race winners, the last Hopeful winner to prevail in a Triple Crown race was Afleet Alex (2004), who won both the Preakness and the Belmont the next year.
Secretariat sweeps around on the outside and draws off a convincing winner of the 1972 Hopeful Stakes.
The Hopeful will be part of Fox Sports 2's Saratoga Live broadcast, which runs from 5:00pm-6:30pm EDT. As with all NYRA racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, audio of these races is streamed on the NYRA website, and HD video is available to anyone with a free NYRA account.
Monday, September 5: Saratoga
Race 10: Hopeful Stakes (GI), two-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:44pm EDT
The waters here are deeper than those of the Bashford Manor (GIII) two months ago, but CLASSIC EMPIRE looks up to the challenge. The Mark Casse trainee broke his maiden first out in a four and a half furlong baby race at Churchill, and then took a nice step forward to run down Recruiting Ready in the Bashford Manor. That happened despite a poor start: which is both something concrete on which CLASSIC EMPIRE can improve here, as well as some proof that he can roll with it if things do not go perfectly. RUNAWAY LUTE, ROYAL COPY, and even BITUMEN can show some early speed, giving CLASSIC EMPIRE to run at. And, Casse drew Irad Ortiz to ride: despite the fact that Ortiz had previously ridden both PRACTICAL JOKE (for Chad Brown!) and PRETTY BOY FLASH.
BITUMEN rates a good chance here, too. BITUMEN has Saratoga form already, having won the Sanford (GIII) by daylight earlier in the meet. He showed some nice versatility there, as well. In his debut, he won on a contested pace; in the Sanford, he sat near the back of a short field, then rolled late. On breeding, a little more distance should suit BITUMEN nicely, as he is a Mineshaft half to Meshell, a filly with two-turn form. The price will be short, but he has been so solid in both of his starts that he could well prove the goods once more.
RUNAWAY LUTE gets a class test here. Both of his career starts have come against New York-bred company, but the first part of his name has proven prescient. His maiden-breaker was a twelve-length frontrunning score. He returned in the Rockville Centre Stakes, and was forced to come from off the pace after his start was bad enough to spot the field daylight. No matter: he made a sustained run, overtook the field, and drew off to win by eight and three quarters lengths. Of course, the horses RUNAWAY LUTE faces here are tougher company than a NY-bred stakes. But, the speed and adaptability are there, and his breeding should handle the extra furlong just fine.
#6 CLASSIC EMPIRE (5/2)
#4 BITUMEN (2/1)
#3 RUNAWAY LUTE (9/2)
Longshot: Most of the horses in this field are stretching out to seven furlongs for the first time. #5 ROYAL COPY (8/1) has not only tried the distance, but gotten his picture taken going seven at Saratoga. That came with Luis Saez in the irons; Saez returns today. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee has three starts under his belt leading into the Hopeful, tying him with PRETTY BOY FLASH for the most starts in the field. He does his best relatively close to the pace, but should be able to press the pace. Particularly if the track is playing well for speed on Monday, ROYAL COPY could spoil the party at a price: just the way D. Wayne likes it nowadays.
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