The whisker tight chase for the trainer’s title came down to the fifth race at Saratoga on closing-day Monday, but the drama of the 2017 Spa meeting didn’t end with Todd Pletcher’s record-tying 40th win. That honor went to Sporting Chance (Tiznow), who appeared well on his way to giving Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas his eighth win in the GI Hopeful S. only to veer out sharply in deep stretch, nearly unseating jockey Luis Saez, who righted the dark bay just in time to maintain a neck advantage over favored Free Drop Billy (Union Rags) on the wire.
“Well, this surprised me more than it did the horse,” Lukas said. “I thought he was comfortably in front and he was moving well. I think he was best in the last 50 yards where he accelerated, that’s his style. Unfortunately, he saw something. I guess Luis explained that he ducked from the whip. I have a tendency to think it might have been something else, you never know. These are 2-year-olds and he’s just in his third race, so you can see things happen like that everyday in 2-year-old races.”
Given a 57-10 chance in his stakes debut, Sporting Chance pressed the pace from second through splits of :22.50 and :45.92 and took charge at the top of the lane before being confronted by Free Drop Billy heading into the final furlong. Turning back that rival under right-handed urging, Sporting Chance suddenly, sharply bore out a few strides before the wire. Saez grabbed the left rein to stay on the horse, but Sporting Chance straightened out just in time for Saez to give him one more cross to hit the wire just in front of Free Drop Billy. An inquiry and objection were lodged against the winner, but it was determined that he was in the clear when he drifted out and the result stood.
“I thought the fractions were realistic,” Lukas said. “I wasn’t so worried about the fractions posted. I thought Luis was well within himself clocking the speed. That’s the thing I was comfortable with. Somebody said :22 [seconds] in our box and I said, ‘At this point, they’re all there.’ Everyone was in contention in the first quarter. Even at the half-mile they weren’t spreading out, there were horses all bunched there. So I was more comfortable with what Luis was doing. He was in comfortable position, he was on the outside of one of the obvious speed horses and I felt comfortable that we’d finish.”
On winning his eighth Hopeful, Lukas said, “You know what that says? You’re damn old.”
Lukas’s last three Hopeful wins have all been for longtime clients Robert Baker and William Mack, who took the race in 2013 with Strong Mandate (Tiznow) and in 2015 with Dublin (Afleet Alex).
“They’ve been great,” Lukas said. “They’ve been loyal and have been with us 27 years. They buy two horses a year and they let me pick them out and they’ve been great signing the ticket.”
Free Drop Billy, a debut winner at Churchill in June, was favored in the Hopeful off a runner-up effort in the July 22 GIII Sanford S. Trainer Dale Romans said the winner’s antics may have cost his charge the race.
“You can’t tell [for] a 2-year-old who has run three times in his life and the horse bolts in front of him, how much it stops his momentum,” Romans said. “If they all stayed straight, he may run right past him. You don’t know what it does to a horse’s mind. He got beat a head by a horse who bolted in front of him. It’s a ridiculous call.”
Mack and Baker purchased Sporting Chance for $575,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Second behind subsequent Ellis Park Juvenile winner Dak Attack (Ghostzapper) in his 5 1/2-furlong debut at Churchill Downs June 15, he was tabbed a ‘TDN Rising Star’ with a wire-to-wire victory at that same distance at Saratoga July 22.
As for what is next for his most recent Hopeful winner, Lukas said, “I’m going to get together with the [owners]. My first blush reaction is to maybe get a two-turn race. I might try to go straight to the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but I’m not real fond of Del Mar. I know that sounds crazy, but I’m going to weigh all our chances. Another logical spot would be the GI Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and go two-turns. There’s all kinds of options now.”
Trainer Ron McAnally purchased Sporting Chance’s dam, Wynning Ride, as a yearling for $120,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September Sale. Racing for Arnold Zetcher, the chestnut was second in 2008 GI Hollywood Starlet and third in the following year’s GI Coaching Club American Oaks for trainer Bob Baffert. Hunter Valley purchased Wynning Ride, carrying her first foal by Tale of the Cat, for $300,000 at the 2013 Keeneland January Sale. The Kentucky operation sold the mare, in foal to Pioneerof the Nile, to Carrol Castille for $410,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton November sale. The mare produced a colt by that sire in 2016 and a filly by Closing Argument in 2017. She was bred back to Tapizar.
Monday, Saratoga Race Course
HOPEFUL S.-GI, $350,000, SAR, 9-4, 2yo, 7f, 1:23.71, gd.
1–#@&SPORTING CHANCE, 118, c, 2, by Tiznow
1st Dam: Wynning Ride (SW & MGISP, $345,108),
by Candy Ride (Arg)
2nd Dam: Wynyard, by Mr. Greeley
3rd Dam: Dixie Lass, by Dixieland Band
‘TDN Rising Star’ ($275,000 Wlg ’15 KEENOV; $575,000 Ylg ’16
KEESEP). O-Robert C Baker & William L. Mack; B-Hunter Valley
Farm (KY); T-D. Wayne Lukas; J-Luis Saez. $210,000. Lifetime
Record: 3-2-1-0, $269,140. Werk Nick Rating: A+. Click for the
eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.2–Free Drop Billy, 118, c, 2, Union Rags–Trensa, by Giant’s
Causeway. ($200,000 Ylg ’16 KEESEP). O-Albaugh Family
Stable; B-Helen K. Groves Revocable Trust (KY); T-Dale L.
Romans. $70,000.3–Givemeaminit, 118, c, 2, Star Guitar–Powerful Nation, by
Turkoman. ($20,000 RNA Ylg ’16 ESLYRL). O-Valene Farms LLC;
B-Clear Creek Stud LLC (LA); T-Dallas Stewart. $35,000.
Margins: NK, HD, 4. Odds: 5.70, 3.00, 6.20.
Also Ran: Firenze Fire, National Flag, Oskar Blues, Mojovation, Psychoanalyze.
Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.