Hopeful Stakes Preview: Lukas Aims for Seventh Hopeful Victory

bitumen credit Chelsea Durand/NYRA
Chelsea Durand/NYRA

Man o’ War, Buckpasser, Nashua, Secretariat and Affirmed are among the roster of winners, so it’s fair to say the Hopeful has long been a showcase for thoroughbred immortals.

Monday’s $350,000 Hopeful – the 16th and final Grade 1 flat race at Saratoga Race Course, and the first of the season for 2-year-old males – attracted a field of seven juveniles looking to see how they measure up to fabled footprints.

Pace Scenario – Moderate

Speed: #3 Runaway Lute, #5 Royal Copy

Stalkers: #7 Pretty Boy Flash

Closers: #1 Everybodyluvsrudy, #2 Practical Joke, #4 Bitumen, #6 Classic Empire

For a two year old stakes race as Saratoga this one looks to be on the slow side as it doesn’t look to have much speed in the race.  Runaway Lute was a wire to wire winner on debut, but last time out stalked the pace.  Royal Copy has never actually been in front during the early stages of a race, but has sat just off the pace in his races.  Both of those horses should at least make the pace moderate, but overall the closers are at risk of not getting much to close into here.


Top Pick: #5 Royal Copy

I predicted before the meet began that trainer D Wayne Lukas would win the Hopeful Stakes, and I won’t shy away from that prediction now as he has a legitimate challenger in the race.  Royal Copy is the only horse in the field that has won at seven furlongs, as he broke his maiden at the distance last time out.  Tactically I think he could have an advantage over the others in here today, and I like how he showed heart and determination last time out as he re-rallied to defeat Pretty Boy Flash.  Lukas is in search of his seventh Hopeful Stakes win, and has won the race in recent years with Dublin and Strong Mandate.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers: #2 Practical Joke,#4 Bitumen, #6 Classic Empire

Hard not to like Practical Joke as he has ran once in his career and it was a blowout win at Saratoga.  You also can’t beat his connections as he has the leading trainer and leading jockey in his corner.  Bitumen and Classic Empire are both a perfect two for two, and both are coming into this race off a stakes win.  Bitumen was an impressive winner of the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes earlier in the meet as he defeated the highly though of Random Walk.  Classic Empire last raced at Churchill downs where he won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor as he chased down Recruiting Ready who came back to finish second in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special.  Both these horses will be trying to close down the stretch.

Exotic Plays: #3 Runaway Lute

Debated putting him in the “horses to use in multi race wagers” category but in the end I think he’s just a very small cut below the top horses here.  His two wins have been incredibly easy for him, but those were against state bred horses at Belmont Park so this is a big time jump up in class today.  He must also stretch out to seven furlongs today as well.  Like the horse, but will play against in multi’s.

Party Crashers: #7 Pretty Boy Flash

He’s still a maiden after three races, but has been defeated by some pretty nice horses, one of which I picked on top in this race today.  We saw this in the Del Mar Debutante on Saturday…a maiden who had been beaten by the  favorite on debut turned the tables in the stakes race at a price.  This will be a little tougher of a task for Pretty Boy Flash, but he’s not without a chance in here.

Throw Outs: #1 Everybobdyluvsrudy

It’s going to take a massive improvement for him to compete with this group as it’s a top heavy field.  His one race at Belmont Park certainly wasn’t bad, but is on the slow side compared to everyone else in the field.


Heading the lineup for the 112th running of the closing-day feature are Joseph Sutton’s undefeated Bitumen and John C. Oxley’s Classic Empire, who are already graded stakes winners. Their mettle will be tested by flashy-looking prospects Practical Joke and Runaway Lute, as well as Royal Copy, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, a six-time Hopeful winner.

Bitumen was an impressive debut winner at Churchill Downs, breaking from the rail and shrugging off several challenges up front. Scarcely three weeks later, he showed another dimension by rallying from off the pace to take the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes on opening weekend at the Spa.

“He got an education because he was in behind and took so much dirt, which showed how much class he has,” said trainer Eddie Kenneally. “[The Sanford] was a great foundation to help him go forward.”

Bitumen appears to have gone forward through four subsequent workouts, capped by a best-of-46 bullet half-mile on Monday.

“He worked super,” said Kenneally. “He’s trained along nicely here all summer and hasn’t missed a beat since the Sanford.”

Bitumen breaks from post 4 with Javier Castellano aboard once again.

Classic Empire overcame slow getaways to win both of his races at Churchill Downs for trainer Mark Casse, capped by the Grade 3 Bashford Manor, in which he ran down odds-on choice Recruiting Ready, who subsequently finished second and was disqualified to fourth in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special.

“The pace set up for him and he was able to run down a very talented horse,” said assistant Norm Casse.

After breaking from the rail in his first two starts, Classic Empire moves out to post 6 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.

Klaravich Stables’ Practical Joke looks like a serious threat based on his initial effort on Whitney Day, August 6, a five-length maiden victory after being bumped at the break and relegated toward the rear of the field down the backstretch.

“I thought he ran well first time out,” said Chad Brown, who is closing in on his first-ever Spa training title. “He’d been training awesome, but you never know at Saratoga. He’s done well since then and I think he’ll appreciate the added distance. There’s always some concern running only one time and going into a Grade 1; it’s always a tall order. However, we think he deserves a chance.”

Practical Joke will begin from post 2 with Jose Ortiz.

After two wins by a combined 20 ¾ lengths against fellow New York-breds, including the Rockville Centre Stakes, Harold Lerner’s Runaway Lute steps in with open company.

“I think the Hopeful is an acid test for him,” said trainer Gary Contessa. “It’s safe to say he is one of the better New York-breds, but I do know I’m up against it.”

Runaway Lute breaks from post 3 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the saddle.

Royal Copy has improved with each start for Lukas, culminating with a pace-pressing maiden victory here. The most recent of Lukas’ six Hopeful winners, Strong Mandate (2013), also ran directly off a maiden win for the same owners, Robert C. Baker and William L. Mack.

Royal Copy leaves from post 5 with Luis Saez up.

Completing the field are Everybodyluvsrudy and Pretty Boy Flash, who exit runner-up finishes against maidens.

Everybodyluvsrudy, who is on the also-eligible list for a maiden race Saturday, drew the rail and has Manny Franco named to ride.

Pretty Boy Flash breaks from the outside in post 7 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.

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