2015 Hopeful Stakes and Bernard Baruch Handicap Preview

This Monday, September 7th, the Saratoga meet draws to a close.  The Labor Day card features a pair of graded stakes races to close the meet: the Hopeful Stakes (GI) for juveniles, and the Bernard Baruch (GII) for older grass horses.  Though the Baruch lacks the sparkle of last year’s — Wise Dan is making yet another improbable return in the Woodbine Mile this year, not the Baruch — both races drew contentious fields, and should be interesting betting affairs.

Monday, however, is not the only day that Picks and Ponderings turns its eyes toward New York.  Saturday’s Saratoga card features four graded stakes races.  The card features two Grade I races on the main track: the Woodward for the handicap division and the Spinaway for juvenile fillies.  Saturday’s action at the Spa also includes a pair of Grade III races on the grass, the Saranac for three-year-olds and the Glens Falls for older fillies and mares.  Paul Mazur has previews of all four here at Picks and Ponderings.

Fox Sports 1 will televise both the Bernard Baruch and the Hopeful; their broadcast runs from 5-6pm EDT.  NYRA.com also offers HD video of these, and all NYRA races, on their website; accessing this video requires creating a free account.

Morning line for the Bernard Baruch was not available at original publish time.  Updated on September 5th to include morning lines.  Updated on September 7th to reflect the scratch of Sticksstatelydude from the Hopeful.

Race 9: Bernard Baruch Handicap (GII), three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:11pm EDT

This race takes its name from the Park Bench Statesman, Bernard Baruch.  A successful stockbroker by trade, he chaired the War Industries Board for President Woodrow Wilson during World War I.  He subsequently served as an economic adviser for Presidents Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, F. Roosevelt, and Truman.  He gained his nickname through his propensity to chat about issues of state in Lafayette Park in Washington DC, as well as in New York City’s Central Park.  Baruch raced horses under the moniker Kershaw Stable.  His highest-profile win as a racehorse owner came in 1927, when his horse Happy Argo won the Carter Handicap.

The Bernard Baruch Handicap has been run since 1959.  It began as a three-year-old race, but opened to older in 1961.  It has been run at distances varying from a mile to a mile and three-eighths, but has been at its current 1 1/16 mile distance since 2012.  Of most local interest is the 1989 winner of the Bernard Baruch, Steinlen.  The race was run in July that year; he followed that win up with a win in the Arlington Million (GI).  Steinlen proceeded to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile that fall, and earned the Eclipse Award winner for Champion Grass Horse.

It is hard to look past IRONICUS here; this space tried, but cannot do it.  He has been a consistent horse through his career, hitting the board in all nine of his turf tries, including a 6-3-2-1 career line at this distance.  He stretches out from a mile last out in the Fourstardave (GII).  In that race, he closed from well off a reasonable but not blazing pace, and finished second beaten just a neck.  The stretch out should help him here; his classiest win to date, the Dixie (GII) earlier this year, came at eight and a half panels.  Though it is questionable who will go with CONSTITUTION on the front end, this space cannot endorse him to shoot to the lead and go wire-to-wire, not with a seven-month lay and no turf works.  IRONICUS and regular rider Javier Castellano should be rolling late, fast and classy enough to mow everyone down.

The 1-2 finishers from the Lure Stakes last month also hold appeal here.  The race’s winner, UNDER CONTROL, keeps Irad Ortiz aboard from his length and a quarter win in the Lure.  He rallied from midpack there, but has been able to run well from closer to the pace as well, a useful skill given the possibility of an unpressured leader.  Some of his back form lines show him being able to stalk just off a crawlong pace, and rally well enough to prevail.  UNDER CONTROL has been a quietly consistent type throughout his career; in twelve starts going a mile and a sixteenth over the grass, he has three wins, and has never missed the board.  His speeds are not the fastest in the bunch, but if he can run back to or build upon what he showed in the Lure, he should be competitive here at a square price.  CHARMING KITTEN finished second in the Lure last out, and starts for just the third time this year.  Two back at Belmont, in his first start off a lay of almost a year, he got the best of UNDER CONTROL at this distance at Belmont.  Still, in three starts at the Spa, he has a win, a second, and a third, showing some affinity for the track.  Though CHARMING KITTEN’s signature win came last year, going two miles at Belmont, he also has a respectable 7-4-1-1 career line at a mile and a sixteenth on grass, showing he can go (relatively) short as well.  He also keeps regular rider John Velazquez in the irons.  Velazquez has been with him for both starts this year, as well as for both of his wins last year.  Though it will be interesting to see whether he or CONSTITUTION will go off the shortest-priced of the three Pletchers in this race (he also sends out ALL INCLUDED), CHARMING KITTEN’s form — and turf form particularly — merit more trust than that of his stablemate who hasn’t seen the starter since the Donn.

Selections:

#1 IRONICUS (9/5)

#4 UNDER CONTROL (12/1)

#5 CHARMING KITTEN (10/1)

Longshot:  #7 ALL INCLUDED (5/1) is the Pletcher C entry.  With so much attention to fall on CONSTITUTION and CHARMING KITTEN, perhaps ALL INCLUDED gets off at a price.  His best races fit with this crowd, and he does have some prowess at Saratoga.  Though his last-out win came over the inner turf, he also has a win over the outer turf last year, going this distance.  Pacewise, he has shown some versatility: he can win on the lead, just off of it, or rallying from midpack.  He has been consistent on the grass.  The lightly-raced four-year-old has raced seven times total, five over grass, with his only turf loss being a fourth beaten 1 1/4 lengths in the Poker (GIII) three back.  ALL INCLUDED can be depended on for an honest effort, and though he would need to run the race of his life to win, he is versatile enough and in good enough form to invade the exotics, at least, for a price.

Race 10: Hopeful Stakes (GI), two-year-olds, seven furlong on the dirt, post time 5:47pm EDT

The Hopeful Stakes, a fixture at Saratoga since 1904, is the first Grade I of the season for two-year-old open company.  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 the last century 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 Regret (1914), Whirlaway (1940), Native Dancer (1952), Buckpasser (1965), and Affirmed (1977) all won this race.  Though it has been a fruitful source of winners of Classic races, 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.


The slop could not stop Afleet Alex from rallying from off the pace to win the 2004 Hopeful Stakes. Video courtesy Youtube.

Is morning line favourite UNCLE VINNY a decent horse?  Sure.  His maiden win hardly impressed; he was pushed so hard to win by the margin he did, and his flop in the Tremont backed up that outlook.  His last out was his best race to date, despite needing the disqualification of MAGNA LIGHT to win.  However, in a race so full of juveniles with potential, it makes no sense to take an underlaid price on UNCLE VINNY when so many others in this field have upside.

This race drew heavy on early speed.  MAGNA LIGHT looks the speed of the speed, but both SET THE TRAPPE and RALIS have shown it as well.  This should set up beautifully for a rally from BULLET GONE ASTRAY.  This Florida-bred son of Gone Astray rallied from well off to splash home on debut at Gulfstream.  However, he proved next out that he was not just a Gulfstream Horse, laying waste to the field in the Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes.  He stalked closer to the pace in that race than before, running along a dead rail early; the race was over as soon as he angled out and got the leading pair in his sights.  These runners, to be sure, will be classier than anyone he has faced at Gulfstream or the Mountain.  However, with such a good chance that we have not seen his bottom, BULLET GONE ASTRAY has serious upside at a serious price.

SALLISAW broke his maiden at Saratoga on August 15, at first asking.  He stalked fairly close to, but not on, the lead.  That should help him here, with all the likely speedsters in front of him; he should not get burned in a duel.  His debut speed figure suggests he is fast enough to contend with these foes, and his breeding (by Exchange Rate out of a Dynaformer mare) means that the stretch from the five and a half furlongs of his maiden win to the seven of the Hopeful should only benefit him.  Furthermore, SALLISAW is trained by Kieran McLaughlin, one of the hottest people on the grounds this Saratoga meet.  He has been winning at 24% on the meet, and wins at 26% with last-out maiden winners.  He gets Junior Alvarado back in the irons from the maiden win, as well.  All signs point to SALLISAW being able to take the rise in class with aplomb.

Finally, if one of the speedsters survives to the end, MAGNA LIGHT should.  Though SET THE TRAPPE and RALIS will likely be in the mix early as well, MAGNA LIGHT has shown the best early pace so far, as well as an ability to do well when the issue is contested early.  He has also shown form over the Saratoga strip already, crossing the wire first in the Sanford (GIII) earlier this summer before the dubious decision to place him third.  He gets rider Jose Ortiz back in the irons from his last two races, and goes out for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who has a 24% strike rate (and positive ROI) in graded stakes races.  The jump in speed figures from his first race to the Sanford raises a bit of a question, and opens the possibility for a bounce, but that could also be a question of him being two, or of him using only what he needed to win his maiden race by open lengths.  MAGNA LIGHT should be fast enough early to get a good spot despite his rail draw, and has the speed and class to outslug his likely front-end competition.

Selections:

#8 BULLET GONE ASTRAY (15/1)

#2 SALLISAW (5/1)

#1 MAGNA LIGHT (3/1)

Longshot:  #5 TOM’S READY (10/1) has not yet hit the board, much less won.  The Dallas Stewart trainee has started once in maiden special weight company at Saratoga, and finished fourth beaten a length and a half by SALLISAW.  However, there were hints of upside in that race.  Pedigree-wise, the stretch from five and a half furlongs to seven should hit him square between the eyes, being by More Than Ready out of a Broad Brush mare.  He also looked last out like he was finding his best stride late; with that race being a furlong and a half shorter, he looked like a horse who would appreciate a bit more distance.  In that maiden win, the top three horses were 1-2-3 much of the way around; it stood out to see TOM’S READY rally from so far off the early pace to finish just a neck short of the show.  With some likely pace to close into, he should benefit.  Finally, he gets a switch to Irad Ortiz, the hottest rider in the colony, and a sharp 19% with closer (Brisnet “S”) types.  All of these suggest that TOM’S READY comes into this a better horse, and a more live one, than his single fourth-place finish would suggest.

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