The $300,000, Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes has been held at Saratoga since 1903. Initially contested at six furlongs, the distance was lengthened to 6 1/2 furlongs in 1925 until it changed in 1994 to its current configuration of seven furlongs.
The first Grade 1 contest of the year for 2-year-old colts is a strong indicator of future class. The Hopeful victor and runners-up have continued to successful careers on the track and in the breeding shed. Hopeful Stakes alumni include Triple Crown champs Secretariat, Affirmed and, more recently, Preakness and Belmont Stakes hero Afleet Alex.
In recent years, Shanghai Bobby (2012) used the Hopeful Stakes as a stepping stone to a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and year-end honors as champion 2-year-old.
Carded as Race 10 on Monday, the Hopeful attracted 11 colts, ridglings and geldings.
Sons of four first-crop sires – Practical Joke, Gormley, Gun Runner and American Freedom – figure prominently in the Hopeful.
Sanford Stakes (G3) winner #6 Wit (7-5) will attempt to follow in his sire Practical Joke's hoofprints as a Hopeful Stakes winner. Wit ran away from his competition in both starts by a combined 14 lengths. The Todd Pletcher trainee earned the third-highest Brisnet late-pace speed figure of 91. Pletcher's 2-year-olds are winning at a 32% clip this meet.
Wit's main competitor is Saratoga Special (G2) hero #8 High Oak (5-2). Gormley's son is also undefeated and captured the Special by 4 1/2 lengths over Hopeful entrant Gunite. Bill Mott's charge earned a 92 late-pace speed figure.
#3 Gunite (8-1), by leading freshman sire Gun Runner, has improved his speed figures in each of his four outings. The Saratoga Special was Gunite's first start off the layoff. After dueling on the lead with Doctor Jeff, The Steve Asmussen trainee got a little tired and offered no resistance to High Oak. Asmussen is hoping for a three-peat in the Hopeful; he won last year with Saratoga Special hero Jackie's Warrior and in 2019 with last-out maiden winner Basin.
Gormley's son #7 Headline Report (12-1) chased Wit around the oval in the Sanford. Despite finishing eight lengths behind his rival, Headline Report dominated the rest of the field by 5 1/2 lengths. The Sanford Stakes was a weak race, according to speed figures. The Wesley Ward trainee earned an 83, and his late pace figure of 73 is the lowest in the Hopeful field. Ward is seeking his first Hopeful victory.
Last-out maiden winner #2 Defend (6-1) is by American Freedom, a graded-stakes winner from Pulpit's last crop out of a daughter of 2000 Hopeful winner City Zip. Defend was impressive facing a lesser group at Delaware, but it was a key race: One rival was a next-out winner, and three others returned to hit the board. Defend earned a lofty 96 speed figure and owns the highest late pace figure of 93. Trainer Cathal Lynch's juveniles win their second start at an impressive 29% rate. Defend gets a jock switch to Luis Saez, who has a 20% win rate in dirt sprints this meet.
Todd Pletcher's other entrant, #10 Power Agenda (10-1), gutted it out on the front end to graduate by a nose here last month. By Nyquist, out of a stakes-placed daughter of 2004 Hopeful winner Afleet Alex, Power Agenda fought bravely on the rail in the stretch. He was passed at one point by rival Don't Wait Up but surged in the shadow of the wire to win the photo. Irad Ortiz Jr. sticks with his regular mount, Wit, while Manny Franco picks up the mount on Power Agenda. Franco is winning dirt sprints at 12% this summer.
Take a look at three live exotics long shots: Volcanic, Kitodan, and Kevin's Folly.
#1 Volcanic (30-1) came so close to graduating in his second start. He exploded down the stretch to miss a 3-way photo by a head, settling for third place. A son of Violence out of a Pulpit daughter, Volcanic should enjoy the extra furlong of the Hopeful Stakes. Mark Casse's juveniles have a 20% win rate this meet, and Volcanic recorded a pre-race five-furlong gate work in 59.65, the second-best of 18 for the day.
The later-maturing #4 Kitodan (30-1) graduated when stretching to seven furlongs in his fourth start. He prevailed by a neck after a stretch duel at Gulfstream Park and galloped out in front of the field. The son of Point of Entry out of a daughter of A.P. Indy is bred to run all day. While his half-brother Market King was third in the 2019 Rebel Stakes (G2), Kitodan has strong turf influences from his sire and second dam, multiple French Group 1 winner, Divine Proportions, a daughter of Kingmambo. The Jorge Delgado trainee recorded two breezes at Saratoga.
#9 Kevin's Folly (20-1) does not have the most attractive gait, but he got the job done at first asking at the Spa and was athletic enough to skim the rail around the far turn and open up by 1 1/2 lengths. Tom Amoss' 2-year-olds are winning at 31 percent this meet, and overall, 19 percent of his last out maiden juveniles win their next outing. Kevin's Folly's half-brother Flexibility finished second in the 2016 Nashua (G2) and Remsen Stakes (G2) behind Mohaymen.
#11 Big Scully (30-1) jumps into Grade 1 company after eking out a win by a head against state-bred maidens over a sloppy track in his last start. The Dallas Stewart trainee was game while dueling through the stretch and poked his head in front at the wire. But Big Scully's speed figures are low, and he is taking a considerable class jump.
No. 5 Street Fight (50-1) returns to dirt after a failed turf experiment. His speed figures are among the lowest in the field, and he is up against it.
The last favorite to win the Hopeful Stakes was Competitive Edge in 2014. Favorites have placed second or third in six editions since then; the only out of the money finish was Classic Empire, who took a right turn coming out of the gate in 2016. All except one Hopeful hero since 2011 won their previous start.
Five Hopeful entrants have pacesetting tendencies, so there could be a hot early pace. But this won't affect Wit or High Oak, who can track the pace. So, from a class and speed figure perspective, Wit stands head and withers above the field.
#6 Wit (7-5)
#8 High Oak (5-2)
#3 Gunite (8-1)
#1 Volcanic (30-1)
|Rank||Silks||Horse / Sire||Rating||Trainer / Jockey||Last Start||Status|
R. Santana, Jr.
Point of Entry
I. Ortiz, Jr.