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2023 Adirondack Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Can Becky’s Joker Replicate Her Saratoga Success?
Becky's Joker (Gary Johnson/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Adirondack Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Can Becky’s Joker Replicate Her Saratoga Success?

Aaron previews the 2023 Adirondack Stakes (G3) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots. The Gary Contessa-trained Becky’s Joker won her debut stylishly in the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) over this same course on Opening Day.

Can the daughter of Practical Joke replicate that same success while facing several new rivals & running a longer distance? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

Lee Pokoik’s Becky’s Joker flew under the radar in her winning career debut in the Grade 3 Schuylerville in July, but enters the Grade 3, $200,000 Adirondack three weeks later as a prime contender in Sunday’s 6 1/2-furlong main track test for juvenile fillies at Saratoga Race Course.

The Adirondack is slated as Race 8 on Sunday’s 10-race program. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern. 

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Trained by Gary Contessa, Becky’s Joker provided a stunning upset in the six-furlong Schuylerville, making her career debut off a series of local breezes and facing a seemingly impossible task in squaring off against graded competition for her first afternoon outing. The daughter of Practical Joke responded to the tall order with aplomb, rallying from one length off the pace to coast home geared down under returning Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano and 3 1/4 lengths clear of returning rival Saratoga Secret. 

“I didn’t think anybody was better than her physically, and I really thought she could win that race,” said Contessa. “I just didn’t know what to expect mentally, because we can’t recreate a field of horses in the morning with her getting dirt in her face or a break in the flow or having to overcome traffic. You just don’t know how a horse is going to handle that, but I had a very strong belief that mentally she was very sound, and physically she was very talented. It was a combination of the two.”

The $130,000 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale purchase has worked back twice since her Schuylerville coup, including a bullet half-mile in 47.40 seconds on July 26 over the Spa’s Oklahoma dirt training track.

“She’s incredible because we don’t ask her to work,” said Contessa. “We just let her break off at the pole and I tell the rider to just sit on her. She does it all on her own and with her ears up. She’s happy to train and her works are well within herself.”

Contessa expressed deep respect for the talented bay, who gave him his first graded score since Sippican Harbor won the Grade 1 Spinaway in 2018. Contessa had planned to wait for the $300,000 Spinaway on September 3 with Becky’s Joker, but decided to give her another run after she exited the Schuylerville in exceptional form.

“She’s just so level-headed about everything,” said Contessa. “She doesn’t get stressed out about anything and she’s very cool, calm and collected. She’s the perfect horse and ready to run back. I was going to wait for the Spinaway, but she’s doing so well and watching her train, I thought it would do well to run her. And, we still have 28 days until the Spinaway after this race, so it’s not like we’re for want of time.”

Becky’s Joker will emerge from the outermost post 10.

Clearsky Farms’ Kentucky homebred Here U Come Again [post 3, Florent Geroux] boasts a field-high 86 Beyer Speed Figure for a professional debut victory sprinting five furlongs on July 7 at Ellis Park.

Trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, the Liam’s Map grey tracked in second close to pacesetter Pinotslilgirl before taking charge at the three-eighths call and drawing off down the lane to cross the wire 2 1/4 lengths the best in a final time of 57.27.

“She’s doing really good,” said Cox. “She ran really good in her first run and I think she’s a good filly – fast filly. She’s been pretty good out of the gate and we were hoping to have a bit of a target. She was able to break and sit a nice trip, get herself in good position and finish up well. It was five-eighths and she was meant to run three-quarters the week before but the race didn’t go. We put her there and she obviously responded well. I’m pretty happy with what we’ve seen from her since.”

Cox said he expects Here U Come Again to relish the added ground in the Adirondack.

“I think it’s a good thing for her,” said Cox. “I’m not saying she’s a mile and a sixteenth filly, but I think she’s got a good mind and can sit a good trip and finish up. I’ve liked her from Day One. The first time I saw her, she was one who stamped herself as really good.”

Here U Come Again is out of the multiple stakes-winning Euroears mare Euro K Shotgun, a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Shotgun Kowboy. Her immediate family also includes Maysville Slew, a graded stakes-winning millionaire.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas vies for a record-extending eighth Adirondack victory and a successful title defense after taking last year’s running with Naughty Gal. This year, the veteran conditioner saddles BC Stables’ Saratoga Secret [post 6, Flavien Prat] as she attempts to turn the tables on Becky’s Joker.

A daughter from the final crop of Arrogate, Saratoga Secret graduated on debut in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden tilt in June at Ellis Park before making the step up to the graded ranks for her first try against winners in the Schuylerville. There, she vied for early command under Luis Saez before racing three-wide into the turn and briefly had the lead before fading down the lane.

“She ran really well,” Lukas said. “I thought she may have needed that race and she’s improved a little bit. But the winner was too much, let’s be honest. I’d like to take mine out again.”

Lukas acknowledged the feat Becky’s Joker accomplished to graduate on debut in a graded event.

“I really think that horse will be a legitimate favorite for her to rope down through there like she did in that last race, that was pretty impressive,” said Lukas. “Gary deserves a good one.”

The undefeated Brightwork [post 4, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] looks to keep her perfect record intact for conditioner John Ortiz after earning her first stakes coup with a narrow score last out in the six-furlong Debutante on July 2 at Ellis Park.

Campaigned by WSS Racing, the Outwork bay impressed on debut in a 4 1/2-furlong sprint in April at Keeneland, winning by three lengths over a field that included Crimson Advocate, who finished third ahead of wins in the Royal Palm Juvenile Fillies at Gulfstream Park and Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot. Brightwork stretched out to six furlongs in the Debutante and led at every point of call to gamely fend off V V’s Dream.

A half-sister to the stakes-placed Quiet Company, Brightwork is out of the Malibu Moon mare Clarendon Fancy, a half-sister to graded stakes-placed Dubini and stakes-winner What a Catch. Clarendon Fancy is also a full-sister to Catch the Moon, who produced multiple graded stakes-winning millionaires Girvin and Midnight Bourbon, as well as graded stakes-winners Cocked and Loaded and Pirate’s Punch.

Completing the field are 6 debut maiden winners:

  • Cara’s Time [post 1, Dylan Davis]
  • Magic Cross [post 2, Jose Lezcano]
  • Princesa Celina [post 5, Jose Ortiz], who races with blinkers off
  • Princess Indy [post 7, Manny Franco]
  • Streaming Now [post 8, Joel Rosario]
  • Copper Em [post 9, Tyler Gaffalione].