Field of eight aspires to meet expectations in Hopeful

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Grade 1 Hopeful has a long history for launching great careers throughout its running at Saratoga Race Course. Since 1903, the winners list shows notables such as Regret, Man o’ War, Native Dancer, Nashua, and Foolish Pleasure in addition to Triple Crown winners Whirlaway, Secretariat and Affirmed. 

The eight entrants in the 113th edition will look to capture the winner’s share of the $350,000 purse and add their name to the prestigious list today, Closing Day, at the Spa.

Mr. Amore Stables’ Firenze Fire enters the Hopeful perfect through two starts after the Poseidon’s Warrior colt drew off to win his debut at Monmouth, followed by his victory by a length in the Grade 3 Sanford a little over a month later for trainer Jason Servis. 

The youngster has shown the ability to rate early and pounce late, which may prove key in a race seemingly filled with speed. Firenze Fire will leave from post 3 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle.

Robert C. Baker’s Sporting Chance will look to end Firenze Fire’s win streak, returning off his maiden-breaking score on the Saratoga meet’s second day. The Tiznow colt tried to wire three others in his debut at Churchill Downs on June 15, but after setting a quick pace, held on for second. A victory by Sporting Chance would give Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas his eighth victory in the Hopeful.

“I feel good. I feel like my horse is a very, very solid horse,” Lukas said. “But it is a contentious field. At this stage of my career, I am not so naïve to think I can overpower them in a Grade 1 at Saratoga. On the other hand, we have grandiose ideas that we have a pretty good horse.”

The pace setup among the field shows an abundance of speed, but Lukas said his colt, who has been on the front end in both races, shouldn’t have a problem leaving the gate.

Sporting Chance will depart post 6 with Luis Saez.

Valene Farms Givemeaminit shows just one race on his resume after his debut in which he finished second, 2 ¼ lengths behind Sporting Chance. The Louisiana-bred colt by Star Guitar has been working well, trainer Dallas Stewart said.

Givemeaminit will run from post 7 and gets Joel Rosario in the irons.

The Albaugh Family Stable owned and Dale Romans trained Free Drop Billy, off his closing, runner-up finish to Firenze Fire in the Sanford, will look to turn the tables with the extra furlong in the Hopeful. His Sanford effort came after the Union Rags colt fired off a three-length victory in his debut at Churchill Downs. The late-running colt will have plenty to catch up front in the late stages.

Free Drop Billy will run from post 8 and will be ridden by Robby Albarado.

Another who looks to make his presence felt during the seven-panel event is Fort Spring Racing’s Psychoanalyze who hails from trainer Brian Lynch’s barn. The son of Overanalyze won a game duel by three-quarters of a length in his debut at long odds at Belmont, and returned with a stalking trip, but was outkicked in the late stages and settled for third in the Grade 3 Sanford.

Psychoanalyze will contest from post 4 and will be joined by Manny Franco for the first time.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, a three-time winner of the Hopeful, sends a strong pair in Mojovation and National Flag to the gate. The former, a son of Quality Road, rated nicely in his sole start to win by two lengths. National Flag brings an extra race in his career with a tiring seventh place finish in his debut at Belmont on the Stars & Stripes undercard after he dueled with the winner Shangroyal for the first half-mile. The Speightstown colt returned on August 5 to best eight others by 1 ¼ lengths after a bump-filled six-furlong run.

Mojovation will break from the rail and will be ridden by Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, and stablemate National Flag will join from post 5 and will be ridden by Jose Ortiz.

Oskar Blues may have one of the strongest debuts in the field. Sent off at odds of 33-1, the Ken McPeek-trained Speightstown colt put forth a game effort while on the front end of the field of nine, and was hemmed in on the rail to which he was then caught in a duel. The youngster led briefly then lost his lead before fighting back gamely under jockey Dylan Davis to regain it and best his rival by a nose at the wire on August 22. The victory was sweetened after as it was learned that Davis had become a father that day.

Oskar Blues will run from post 2 and will reunite with his tag team partner Dylan Davis in the saddle. 

Bernard Baruch

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart will look to take the next step in a potential Breeders’ Cup trajectory in competing against eight others in the 58th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap for 3-year-olds and up today, Closing Day, at Saratoga Race Course.

Heart to Heart will be making his first appearance at the Spa since winning the 2014 Better Talk Now. The 6-year-old, who is the field’s most experienced entrant in making his 30th career start, has recorded triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last four races, including a 104 for a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 3 at Santa Anita Park. 

Trainer Brian Lynch said he wants Heart to Heart, who was the runner-up by a neck to American Patriot in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile on April 14, to use the Bernard Baruch as a stepping stone to the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile on October 7, which is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile in November.

Heart to Heart has three wins in four starts at the Bernard Baruch distance of 1 1/16 miles and will look to be the pacesetter while breaking from the rail with Irad Ortiz, Jr. with the co-highweight of 120 pounds. 

WinStar Farm’s American Patriot earned a career-high 101 Beyer for his come-from-behind win in the Maker’s 46 Mile in which he rallied from eighth. Following that effort, American Patriot shipped to England, where he finished 11th in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

In his state-side return, the 4-year-old son of War Front couldn’t overcome a poor start over a yielding track, finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Fourstardave on August 12 at the Spa.

Luis Saez will have call from post 5. American Patriot will also carry 120 pounds.

Ring Weekend will return to graded stakes company looking to repeat as the winner in the Bernard Baruch in a Saratoga record-setting time of 1:38.29 for 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon turf. 

The 6-year-old son of Tapit dropped down in class after a wide trip and a 10th-place showing in the Grade 2 Dixie on May 20 at Pimlico. After a runner-up performance against optional claimers on June 15, the Graham Motion trainee was fifth in the Fasig-Tipton Lure.

Ring Weekend is seeking his first win since the 2016 Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap, drawing post 4 with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard.

Juddmonte Farms’ Projected has been a runner-up three consecutive times for trainer Chad Brown entering the weekend, finishing one-length behind Zennor last out in the Lure on August 5. Since arriving from France, where the English-bred raced exclusively for his first 11 career starts, the 5-year-old is 1-3-0 in five starts, including second-place efforts in the Grade 2 Dixie and Grade 3 Poker.

Florent Geroux will be in the irons from the outside post.

Projected’s stablemate Takeover Target earned black type in the Fasig-Tipton Lure last out on August 5. The third-place finish was first Saratoga appearance for the 5-year-old since running seventh in last year’s edition of Bernard Baruch.

Takeover Target, owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, drew post 2 with Joel Rosario.

Highland Sky will make his 2017 stakes debut, cutting back in distance after a six-wide trip and a seventh-place finish against optional claiming company at 1 3/8 miles on Saratoga’s Opening Day, July 21.

The 4-year-old son of Sky Mesa will make his first graded stakes start since finishing second by a neck to Deauville in the 2016 Grade 1 Belmont Derby.

Rajiv Maragh will ride from post 8.

Delta Prince will stretch out in distance after capitalizing on class relief in an optional claimer win on August 5. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Delta Prince was second in the Grade 3 Appleton in his stakes debut, finishing a half-length behind All Included on April 1.

Delta Prince will make his first start at more than a mile, drawing post 3 in tandem with Velazquez, a Hall of Fame inductee.

Forge, trained by fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott, will make his first stakes appearance in North American. The English bred 4-year-old will leave post 6 under Manny Franco.

Glorious Empire, trained by Carlos Martin will round out the field, drawing post 7 in his first graded stakes start. Jockey Jose Lezcano will ride.   

By Paul Wager

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