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Aaron previews the 2023 Hopeful Stakes (G1) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots. The Todd Pletcher-trained Pirate looks to bury his 10 rivals in the sand like he did on debut.
Could another horse, such as his stablemate Be You, plunder away the victory on Closing Day at The Spa? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Siena Farm and WinStar Farm’s Timberlake will look to stand out amongst a talented field of 11 juveniles in the 119th running of the seven-furlong Grade 1 $300,000 Hopeful on Monday’s Closing Day card, at Saratoga Race Course.
The Hopeful is slated as Race 10 on Closing Day Monday’s 11-race card which also features the listed $150,000 Bernard Baruch in Race 3. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.
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Trained by dual Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, the Into Mischief colt enters from a pair of starts as the mutuel favorite under returning rider Florent Geroux at Ellis Park.
The $350,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase was off a step slow and failed to threaten in his June 15 debut won by next-out graded stakes-winner Rhyme Schemes, but was perfectly in sync with Geroux last out when adding blinkers and taking a field of nine gate-to-wire to score in hand by 9 1/4-lengths over next-out winner West Saratoga.
Cox said the dominant geared-down win, which earned an 85 Beyer Speed Figure, validated the talent Timberlake has demonstrated in training.
“He’s very precocious and he continues to do well. He’s always been a horse that stood out as a top talent. We’ll see if he’s a Grade 1 talent on Monday,” Cox said.
Timberlake has breezed back four times over the Oklahoma training track, including a five-eighths effort in 1:01 flat Sunday.
“He’s had some very fancy works in the morning and I love what we’ve seen from him,” Cox said. “He’s a very good work horse, especially for a 2-year-old this time of year.”
Timberlake, who will exit post 5, is out of the Irish-bred Lookin At Lucky mare Pin Up, who is a half-sister to dual Group 2-winner Thomas Chippendale.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, a four-time Hopeful winner, will be represented by Harrell Ventures and Starlight Racing’s Pirate [post 11, Javier Castellano] and Repole Stable’s Be You [post 10, Irad Ortiz, Jr.]
Pirate, by Omaha Beach and out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Treasure, is a half-brother to this year’s Grade 1 Preakness-winner National Treasure.
He broke inward at the start of his July 15 debut here under Irad Ortiz, Jr., but quickly took command under pressure from Arteta through splits of 22.26 seconds and 45.70 over the fast main track. Pirate established a 3 1/2-length lead at the stretch call and edged clear to win in a final time of 1:04.89 for 5 1/2-furlongs. The three-length score over next-out winner and returning rival Just Steel earned a 77 Beyer.
“In his maiden race, he got pressed with some early fractions and just kept on going,” Pletcher said. “The horse that was second [Just Steel] came back and won, so it was a solid debut.”
Pirate has breezed back four times over the Spa main track, including a half-mile effort in 47.76 Monday.
“He looks good, very straightforward. The way he trains suggests that he’ll stretch out,” said Pletcher, whose past Hopeful winners include Circular Quay , Shanghai Bobby , Competitive Edge  and Forte . Both Forte and Shanghai Bobby went on to be named Champion 2-Year-Old Colt. “He’s been impressive even before his debut and he’s had a good series of breezes since then. We’re optimistic that he’s about to make another step forward.”
Bred in Kentucky by Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds, Pirate’s second dam, Proposal, produced multiple stakes winner Inspired – the dam of graded stakes-placed Carmel Road.
The regally-bred Be You, by Curlin, is out of the graded stakes-winning Congrats mare Jacaranda, who is a half-sister to the Pletcher-trained dual Grade 1-winner and current WinStar stallion Constitution.
The $320,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase exited the inside post under Ortiz, Jr. in his August 5 debut here and saved ground in third position as Just Steel dueled on the lead with Ozone through splits of 22.56 and 45.60. Be You tipped out six-wide into the lane and battled with Just Steel, drifting in to bump with that rival at the eighth pole and take a brief lead. But a game Just Steel dug in and regained the lead with 70 yards to run and notch a nose win over Be You in a final time of 1:10.22.
Pletcher said the strong effort, which registered an 88 Beyer, merits an attempt at a Grade 1 maiden score.
“He just got beat in a tough maiden race and he’s been training well since then,” Pletcher said. “We’re looking at it like he got beat by a nose, and if he had won by a nose we would be running here. I think the experience of having a race and running into a nice colt who was making his third start [helped him learn]. He [Just Steel] had finished second to Pirate the time before, so it was a pretty salty maiden. I thought he ran very well.”
Be You has breezed back twice over the Spa main track, including a half-mile in 50 flat Sunday.
2023 Breeders’ Cup
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will have two chances to win his first Hopeful when he sends out Zedan Racing Stables’ graded stakes-placed Muth [post 7, Flavien Prat] and maiden winner Mission Beach [post 4, John Velazquez] for owners SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Dianne Bashor, Robert E. Masterson, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan and Tom Ryan.
Muth, by Good Magic, was purchased for $2 million at the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training where he worked one furlong under tack in :9 3/5 followed by a strong gallop out.
The bay colt made a winning debut in June at Santa Anita, romping by 8 3/4-lengths in a five-furlong maiden tilt in gate-to-wire fashion through splits of 21.60 and 44.59 before stopping the clock in 57.29 to earn a 90 Beyer.
Last out, in the six-furlong Grade 3 Best Pal on August 13 at Del Mar, Muth bumped with stablemate Prince of Monaco at the break before taking over the lead through a half-mile in 44.76. He was headed by Prince of Monaco at the stretch call and chased that rival the length of the lane when 4 1/4-lengths back in second.
“They had a pace duel and he got caught up in it, but the other horse ran a big race,” said Baffert regarding Prince of Monaco, who is among 37 Baffert trainees nominated to the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on September 10. “Those are two really nice horses and that’s why I wanted to split them up. We have a nice group of 2-year-olds.”
Baffert said he is hopeful that Muth will take to the Spa main track.
“He’s a fast horse and he got a little tired last time. It’s a different track and we don’t know how he’s going to handle it, so hopefully he handles it well,” Baffert said.
Mission Beach, by Curlin, is out of the stakes-winning Flatter mare Stoweshoe – a full-sister to multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Taris, who completed her racing career with a win in the 2016 Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs.
The $400,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase broke alertly in his August 5 debut at Del Mar before settling in second position behind the speedy Next Level. He angled outside that rival for the stretch run and took control in mid-stretch en route to a 1 1/4-length score that earned a 72 Beyer.
“He’s bred for longer distances. He’s not a sprinter and usually the sprinters are tough in those races,” Baffert said. “We’re hoping for a dry, fast track. He’s a nice horse and we’ll learn more about him. The second half of the year is always important for these young horses. We’re still learning about what they want to do and don’t want to do.”
Happy Tenth Stable’s Yo Yo Candy [post 2, Angel Castillo] added blinkers, a new bit and a tongue tie ahead of a 46-1 upset score last out on July 15 in the Spa’s six-furlong Grade 3 Sanford.
The victory, assisted by a stumbled start from heavy favorite and returning rival Gold Sweep, provided trainer Danny Velazquez his first win at Saratoga and jockey Angel Castillo a first graded win in North America.
Yo Yo Candy tracked comfortably from third position as Dickens and Market Street dueled through a half-mile in 45.83. He angled four-wide for the stretch run and took command at the furlong marker en route to a 2 1/4-length score over the late-running Gold Sweep.
“People think it might have been a one-hit wonder, but I think different,” Velazquez said. “I think we’ll come in really ready. He’s developed a lot more in the last month and a half since he last ran and I don’t see him going backwards. He’s a horse that’s developing and growing. I know we’re in deep waters and some heavy hitters are coming in, but we’re ready.”
By Danzing Candy, the $35,000 OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training purchase graduated on debut in May sprinting 4 1/2-furlongs over the main track at Velazquez’ Parx Racing base. He followed with a distant third in the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont in June at Belmont Park, finishing 10 1/4-lengths back of the victorious Gold Sweep.
Yo Yo Candy has worked back twice at Parx, including a six-furlong effort handily from the gate in 1:16.81 with Castillo up followed by a half-mile work Tuesday in 49.18.
Velazquez said the gate work went according to plan.
“I told him to just do easy fractions and let him finish. I just wanted him to remember to break fast out of the gate and keep him fresh,” Velazquez said. “He came out of the Sanford healthy with no hiccups and we hit every work that we needed to hit. We’re coming in right.”
Yo Yo Candy will again race with the equipment added for the Sanford.
“He took to the equipment really well,” Velazquez said. “Obviously, during training, we cut the blinkers open but when he breezes, he breezes with the blinkers and when he runs, we plan on running him with the same blinkers.”
The California-bred colt, out of the multiple graded-stakes placed Two Punch mare Yolanda B. Too, is a half-brother to graded-stakes placed Treble.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen saddled consecutive Hopeful winners in Basin , Jackie’s Warrior  and Gunite  before finishing second last year to Forte with even-money favorite Gulfport.
The veteran conditioner will look to start a new streak when he sends out Mike McCarty’s Gold Sweep [post 6, Jose Ortiz] and recent maiden winner Valentine Candy [post 9, Tyler Gaffalione] for owners William Heiligbrodt, Corinne Heiligbrodt, Jackpot Farm, Whispering Oaks Farm, Keith Myers and Ginger Myers.
Gold Sweep, by Speightstown, entered the Sanford from a dominant nine-length graduation victory under returning rider Jose Ortiz in the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont on June 11 at Belmont Park. He crossed the wire first geared down in a final time of 1:03.47 and garnered a 91 Beyer.
Gold Sweep has breezed back four times over the Oklahoma training track since the Sanford, including a half-mile effort Monday in 50.85. The $285,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale purchase is out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Wonder Brew, whose dam Ginger Brew was the Sovereign Award-winner in 2008 for Champion 3-Year-Old Filly.
Valentine Candy, by 2018 Triple Crown-winner Justify, is out of the multiple graded stakes-placed Candy Ride mare Taste Like Candy. His third dam, Towering Success, produced multiple Grade 1-winner Affirmed Success, who banked more than $2.2 million.
The $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale purchase was a gate-to-wire winner of a six-furlong maiden special weight on July 22 here that the sixth-place finisher Dancing Groom exited to win by five lengths. General Partner and Dive Bomber, the respective fourth and fifth-place finishers of that event, are entered back in Race 7 here Saturday.
Valentine Candy, who won under Ricardo Santana, Jr., has also worked back four times and will have jockey Tyler Gaffalione in the irons Monday.
Rounding out a competitive field are:
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