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2023 Hopeful Stakes Replay & Analysis | Nutella Fella Cracks Open Saratoga Upset On Closing Day
Nutella Fella (Jason Moran/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Hopeful Stakes Replay & Analysis | Nutella Fella Cracks Open Saratoga Upset On Closing Day

Nutella Fella won the 2023 Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, cracking open a 54/1 upset in the Closing Day feature race.

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Watch the official race replay here:

The press release:

Trainer Gary Contessa, who sent out 21-1 maiden Becky’s Joker to capture the Grade 3 Schuylerville on Opening Day here, successfully bookended the meet when Bell Gable Stable’s Nutella Fella rallied to a 54-1 upset under Junior Alvarado to capture Closing Day Monday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Hopeful, a seven-furlong sprint for juveniles, at Saratoga Race Course.

The Runhappy colt, previously trained by Richard Sillaman, was fractious at the gate and broke a length behind the field in his last-out debut score under Kevin Gomez traveling 5 1/2-furlongs on July 26 at Delaware Park.

The $12,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase was transferred to Contessa and breezed extensively at Saratoga in preparation for the Hopeful, including a five-eighths effort in 1:01.85 August 19 over the Oklahoma training track, a seven-eighths effort in 1:29.66 last Sunday over the main track and a three-eighths effort in 34.80 Thursday on the Oklahoma.

Contessa credited NYRA’s head starter Hector Soler and his team, in part, for the victory along with a smart steer by Alvarado, whose agent Mike Sellitto spotted the horse at the Spa and picked up the call.

“The New York gate crew made this happen as much as I did,” Contessa said. “He was an absolute maniac in the gate at Delaware Park and Hector and the gate crew on the training track side worked with him every day and absolutely straightened him out, and I have a lot of thanks for that gate crew.

“I was hoping for that [performance]. He trained like it,” Contessa added. “Mike, Junior Alvarado’s agent, watched him work, ran over to my barn and said, ‘Junior’s got to ride this horse.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and I let him work him a few times and the rest is history.”

Nutella Fella broke last-of-10 and trailed the field as Just Steel outdueled Grade 3 Sanford-winner Yo Yo Candy and the Bob Baffert-trained Mission Beach to mark the opening quarter-mile in 22.19 seconds and a half-mile in 44.89 over the fast main track.

Mission Beach took command through the turn with Just Steel giving way and the Florent Geroux-piloted Timberlake advancing with purpose. Meanwhile, Nutella Fella advanced inside of longshot Baytown Chatterbox before tipping outside and then back in again while passing rivals and making up ground with every stride.

Timberlake, sent to post as the 2-1 mutuel favorite, looked for racing room as the field straightened away and found it splitting the frontrunning Mission Beach, who had a head advantage at the stretch call, and the maiden Be You. But Nutella Fella vaulted beyond them all with a seven-wide wide run, overtaking Pirate, Be You and Timberlake in the final eighth of a mile to post a 1 1/2-length win in a final time of 1:24.41.

Timberlake completed the exacta by a neck over Pirate, who broke inward at the start, with Be You, Mission Beach, Gold Sweep, Just Steel, Baytown Chatterbox, Valentine Candy and Yo Yo Candy completing the order of finish. The Baffert-trained Muth was scratched and will be re-routed to the Grade 1 American Pharoah on October 7 at Santa Anita Park.


The victory marked the third stakes win of the meet for Alvarado, who took the Curlin [Scotland] and P.G. Johnson [Magic Cross] for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Alvarado said the swift pace benefitted Nutella Fella.

“I watched his last race and knew he had a problem in the gate. He broke a little flat footed out of there. Even though the plan was to come from behind, I still would have loved to break a little better, just to be a little more close to the pace,” Alvarado said. “But they were going very fast. When I worked him, he worked beautifully with me. He went six furlongs and he galloped out very strong. I was hoping they would come back to me a little bit because I knew he had the stamina to get the distance today. He really ran great.

“When I started asking him through the traffic, we were passing horses on the outside and the inside,” Alvarado added. “He was already in a run and I didn’t want to bother him at that point. I just kept riding him and he kept finding more for me.”

The Brad Cox-trained Timberlake, a $350,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, earned an 85 Beyer Speed Figure for his second-out graduation on July 21 at Ellis Park.

Geroux said Timberlake was in a good position turning for home, sitting behind the fading speed of the Joel Rosario-piloted Just Steel.

“I thought I got a good setup, you know I was right behind Joel, waited for my turn, split horses, I got through, just made the lead for like maybe barely a sixteenth of a mile, but the other horse ran me down right away,” Geroux said.

Contessa said Nutella Fella will remain in Saratoga and train into the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne on October 7 at Belmont at the Big A, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile On November 3 at Santa Anita Park.

“Champagne to Breeders’ Cup, unless he throws us a curve,” Contessa said. “He’s going to stay up here the next six weeks with me and we’ll be racing in the Champagne from here.”

Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm, Nutella Fella is out of the Candy Ride mare Krissy’s Candy, who is a half-sister to the graded stakes-placed duo Danny Boy and Meal Penalty. He banked $165,000 in victory and returned $111 for a $2 win bet.