Lee Pokoik’s Becky’s Joker made her career debut a winning one in Thursday’s $175,000 Schuylerville (G3) at Saratoga, overcoming a slow start to capture the opening-day feature going away by 3 1/4 lengths. Overlooked at 21-1 among eight juvenile fillies, the Gary Contessa-trained old daughter of Practical Joke was ridden by Javier Castellano.
“It was my idea,” Pokoik said of the decision to debut in a graded stakes. “It didn’t take much, because he’s (Contessa) done this before. It’s always nice to win on Opening Day at Saratoga.”
Contessa noted how Becky’s Joker had been training forwardly.
“I don’t have a horse in the barn that can work in company with her, so I started having to work her on her own and she’s still working three-quarters (fast)” Contessa said. “She’s that kind of horse. I knew that physically she was as good as anything in this race. She trained like a stakes horse, but you don’t know what’s going to happen once the gate opens.”
Becky’s Joker broke a step slow, but she recovered quickly to stalk just behind the early leaders, launching her bid off the far turn.
“I liked that move at the quarter pole when she split horses and took off,” Castellano said. “She leveled off a little bit near the top of the stretch and she did it the right way today. Very professional. She has a lot of potential. To do it like today in her first time, very impressive. She did it the right way.”
Saratoga Secret, off as the 7-2 second choice following a debut win at Ellis Park, chased pacesetter Carmelina through opening splits in :22.45 and :46.03 before advancing to challenge while turning for home, but proved no match for Becky’s Joker, who rolled past to take a one-length lead with a furlong remaining.
The winner drew off in deep stretch, completing six furlongs in 1:12.52.
Saratoga Secret held second by 3 1/2 lengths over late-running Closing Act. It was another head to 1.15-1 favorite Wine on Tap, who raced up close before faltering, and Carmelina, Sugar Treat, and Kiss for Luck rounded out the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by Warren Harang, Becky’s Joker was purchased for $130,000 as a weanling at the 2021 Keeneland November sale. She’s the first foal to start from the unraced Elusive Quality mare Becky’s Best, a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Vertical Oak, the dam of stakes runner-up Giant Mischief.
Contessa and Pokoik teamed to win the 2018 Spinaway (G1) with Sippican Harbor, and Contessa said Becky’s Joker will be pointed to the seven-furlong race at Saratoga on Sept. 3.