In a case of perhaps saving the best for last, the $300,000 Hopeful (G1) for two-year-olds has come up a fascinating end-of-meet feature on closing day of the Saratoga stand on Monday.
Although the field of 11 includes three previous stakes winners, bettors figure to be spread their support mostly around contenders exiting maiden victories for the high-profile stables.
Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Hopeful with eventual champion Forte, saddles debut winner Pirate, from the first crop of Omaha Beach, and Be You, a nose second first out to Just Steel, who was beaten three lengths by Pirate two back.
“In his maiden race, he got pressed with some early fractions and just kept on going,” said Pletcher of Pirate. “He looks good, very straightforward. The way he trains suggests that he’ll stretch out.”
Also exiting the maiden ranks are Valentine Candy, a Steve Asmussen-trained son of Justify, and Timberlake, who won by more than nine lengths at Ellis Park in his second appearance for Brad Cox.
“He’s always been a horse that stood out as a top talent,” said Cox of Timberlake. “We’ll see if he’s a Grade 1 talent on Monday.”
Bob Baffert ships in two contenders from his summer base at Del Mar. Mission Beach, a son of Curlin, won on debut on Aug, 5, while Muth disappointed in the Best Pal (G3) last time, finishing second to stablemate Prince of Monaco at odds of 1-2 after an 8 3/4-length debut score at Santa Anita.
Among the other stakes veterans in the field are Yo Yo Candy, a 46-1 shock winner of the Sanford (G3) over Gold Sweep, who had previously beaten Yo Yo Candy by 10 lengths in the Tremont S. Baytown Chatterbox enters off a similarly inexplicable upset of the Ellis Park Juvenile at 60-1.
The field is completed by Nutella Fella, who steps up in class after a first-out graduation at Delaware Park.
Earlier in the card, Emaraaty is back to defend his title in the $150,000 Bernard Baruch S., which has been downgraded from Grade 3 status since the eight-year-old won the 1 1/16-mile grass fixture in wire-to-wire fashion a year ago. Emaraaty has made only one interim start, trailing a field of six in the June 10 Poker (G3).
Multiple Grade 3 winner Wit is the probable favorite, despite not having run since finishing eighth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) in late January. Wheeling back on short rest is Pioneering Spirit, a distant third in last week’s 12-furlong Sword Dancer (G1).