The Kentucky Derby is still 8 months out but the trail has already begun. Ten juveniles are ready to take their first pivotal step on Monday when they attempt to capture their first Graded Stakes win in the $250,000 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Along with gaining the early spotlight, also in play and up for grabs is an automatic entry into the G1 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile via the “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
The road to the Kentucky Derby is extensive and strenuous and always full of surprises. The allure of the Triple Crown has a lot to do with just how fascinating it is to see these young horses progress so quickly. While it’s not uncommon for some to fizzle out in their 3 yr old season after a hot start at 2, there are those that never seem to stop progressing. The true handicappers and Kentucky Derby fanatics, like us, are always searching to find that horse as early as possible. So even though the trail is long, a winner can be found at just about anywhere, at anytime. It’s got to start somewhere and the Hopeful is it for this field.
We have to go back quite aways to find the last horse that won the Hopeful before going on to win the Kentucky Derby. It was 1977 when Affirmed dazzled at Saratoga and set the stage for his Triple Crown triumph in 1978. In fact, two other horses in the 1970’s also won the Hopeful before coming back to wear the roses at age 3 — Secretariat and Foolish Pleasure. So even though it’s been sometime since a Hopeful winner has come back to be the eventual Kentucky Derby champ, you can never underestimate those that didn’t win. Just last year it was Stay Thirsty that ran 2nd in the Hopeful but now has the chance to become a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner this fall. So let’s take a look at the field of juveniles in this year’s Hopeful Stakes sponsored by Three Chimneys Farm.
Grade 1 $250,000 Hopeful Stakes | 2 Year Olds | 7 Furlongs | Dirt # PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML Odds
- 1 3 Currency Swap (FL) R Maragh T Pompay 3/1
- 1A 5 Clip the Coupons (FL) E Castro C Brown 3/1
- 2 1 Hunt Crossing (KY) J Velazquez T Pletcher 4/1
- 3 2 Vexor (FL) D Cohen J Kimmel 12/1
- 4 4 Power World (KY) E Prado N Howard 6/1
- 5 6 Big Blue Nation (KY) R Dominguez T Pletcher 10/1
- 6 7 Trinniberg (KY) C Velasquez B Parboo 20/1
- 7 8 I’ll Have Another(KY) J Leparoux D O’Neill 8/1
- 8 9 Laurie’s Rocket (KY) K Desormeaux D Stewart 20/1
- 9 10 J C’s Pride (KY) J Lezcano R Barbara 5/2
Several of these juveniles have already placed in a graded stakes race after breaking their maiden. Two that come into this Grade 1 after a strong 2nd place finish last time out in grade 2 stakes are I’ll Have Another and Power World. Trained by Doug O’Neill, I’ll Have Another ships in from the West Coast where he finished 2nd in the G2 Best Pal Stakes on 8/7. This will be only his 3rd lifetime start and his first on dirt. Power World on the other hand has only raced on dirt in his three lifetime starts. After breaking his maiden in his first career race at Churchill Downs, he stayed at the downs and finished 2nd in the G2 Bashford Manor back in July. His most recent race came here at Saratoga, another 2nd place (G2 Sanford), so expect this young colt to handle the surface.
Speed talks in this 7 Furlong Sprint and it is the reason JC’s Pride is The Morning Line favorite at 5/2. After finishing 2nd in his first ever maiden start to the eventual Sanford winner, Overdriven, he returned to win his 2nd MSW start at Saratoga in surprising fashion, a 5F track record (56.54). Since then, he has continued to gain weight and turn in solid works, his most recent a half-mile breeze in 48.15. If his speed persists, he’s going to be tough to catch so look for him to be on the lead at the top of the lane.
The second choice at 3/1 is a duel entry by Klaravich Stables. Filling the 1A saddle is Clip the Coupons trained by Chad Brown and wearing saddle # 1 is Currency Swap trained by Teresa Pompay. Both horses are making their 2nd lifetime start after scoring a MSW victory their first time out at Saratoga.
It wouldn’t be same without Todd Pletcher being involved in a high stakes race in New York. The winning trainer of the Travers Stakes with Stay Thirsty here at Saratoga, has two horses entered in the Hopeful. Like a lot of the horses in this field, Big Blue Nation and Hunt Crossing enter into a Grade 1 Stakes immediately following a MSW victory in their first ever race. Pletcher is going for his 2nd career win in the Hopeful. His first was in 2006 with Circular Quay.
So what’s this field telling us about the start of the Triple Crown pursuit? Nothing new or unlike any other year – the expectations are HUGE and the hopes even bigger. When successful trainers like Pletcher move their juveniles into a Grade 1 Stakes after having raced only once in a MSW, it means their instincts on the horse are live. Of course everyone wants to win all of the time, but if Pletcher, O’Neill or any of the others don’t win tomorrow, their quest towards the Kentucky Derby has still just begun. The goal in tomorrow’s race is to win but more importantly it is for each colt to stay on schedule and continue to find the form their trainer’s feel they can ultimately reach. So, let the progression begin. It’s going to be fun watching and waiting to see how these horses evolve over the coming months. Good luck to all horses and their connections in the Hopeful and on their quest for the roses. Happy Labor Day.
Written by: Little Brink