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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – It’s time for one last showdown at Saratoga before the sun sets on what has been an incredible meet at the Spa. A field of 11 2-year-olds is set to do battle in Monday’s $300,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1), which is always one of the more prestigious races at the meet.
The contest will go off as race 10 on the card with a local post time of 5:38 PM ET.
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There is no doubt the headlining horse of the event is the Todd Pletcher-trained Wit, who is coming off of 2 impressive victories. Last time out, he made short work of the Sanford Stakes (G3) over this oval, closing last to win by multiple lengths. He’ll break from post 6 for his latest challenge with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle once again.
“Wit has the advantage of having a couple of starts,” Pletcher said. “He deserves the chance to step up. I think the way Wit finished up going 6 furlongs, you would think 7 would be no problem.”
Another stakes winner in this field is the Bill Mott-trained High Oak, who took the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) in his last start. The front-running horse also won on debut at Belmont Park, making his resume eerily similar to his main challenger Wit. Junior Alvarado will be in the irons when breaking from post 8.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Gunite adds intrigue after finishing second to High Oak last time out. Two starts back, he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in stylish fashion, which signaled that he could be a horse well-meant for Saratoga. He’ll break from post 3 with Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard.
The full field from the rail out: Volcanic, Defend, Gunite, Kitodan, Street Fight, Wit, Headline Report, High Oak, Kevin’s Folly, Power Agenda, and Big Scully.
Wit Sharp Again, Dominates Sanford
#6 Wit – This won’t be as easy as I originally imagined it would be for Wit, but I still think he’s the best 2-year-old right now, so I’ll go with him once again. There are some solid runners entered here who should help make this an epic showdown, but this horse has a devastating turn of foot and which should prove to be very difficult to hold off.
#8 High Oak – He can pull off a mild upset after dominating the Saratoga Special last time out. Despite fast early fractions, he was able to sit close to the pace, and still kick clear of his rivals down the stretch. Now he must face a very solid horse in Wit, but he has a tactical advantage over him. Will that be enough to make the difference?
#3 Gunite – This Steve Asmussen trainee has plenty of experience already with 4 races under his belt while showing solid consistency. That gives him an advantage over his rivals, and his speed figures continue to improve with each race. He might be a small cut below the top two in here, but he has a shot to pull the upset for a trainer who won this race last season.
#7 Headline Report – He ran well last time out in the Sanford but was simply no match for Wit, losing by multiple lengths. That makes him tough to play in the top spot, but there’s no doubt that he can hit the board with a little luck.
“In the Sanford, he broke sharp and he was right there, but Wit kind of took over turning for home and we were just soundly beaten by a much better horse on the day,” trainer Wesley Ward said. “My guy is moving forward, though. I just think this is the right race over a surface that he’s shown he ran well on in the Sanford. We brought him back to his home track in Kentucky and he had a beautiful 6-furlong work here the other day.”
#10 Power Agenda – This Todd Pletcher trainee comes into the race with a shot after breaking his maiden here on debut last time out. He took the field gate to wire, but doing that again is going to be tougher with several speed horses signed on to run. That is the main reason why I’ve downgraded him just a bit in this spot.
High Oak Springs Saratoga Special Upset
#2 Defund – From a speed figure standpoint, this horse makes a lot of sense, but he earned the figure at Delaware Park with a debut maiden special weight romp. This competition will be much tougher, which is the worry, but he’s shown enough talent to take a shot at this race.
#9 Kevin’s Folly – It’s logical to give him a shot here after a nice debut win over this track last time out. His speed figure did not come back all that strong, though, which is why I’m against him in this tougher spot.
#11 Big Scully – This horse won a restricted maiden special weight over this oval last time out after losing on debut in a similar race. He’ll have to make a big improvement from a speed figure standpoint to have a chance.
#4 Kitodan – It took 4 tries before he finally broke his maiden last time out at Gulfstream Park in an off-the-turf maiden special weight. However, the competition will be much different here, so I don’t like his chances.
#1 Volcanic – Simply put, it’s really hard to see a maiden win this race, where many of the top 2-year-olds in the country are entered.
#5 Street Fight – Yet another maiden who doesn’t match up well in this race. His resume is not as good as the other maiden, either.
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