He narrowly threw the race away in the final hundred yards when ducking out sharply several paths, but Sporting Chance instead clung to victory by a neck over the favored Free Drop Billy in the $350,000 Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, closing day feature of the Spa season on Labor Day.
The 5-1 fourth choice in a field of eight two-year-olds, Sporting Chance was away alertly and tracked in second a half-length behind National Flag through splits of :22.50 and :45.92. Overtaking that rival at the quarter pole, the Tiznow colt opened up a 1 1/2-length advantage in mid-stretch and looked well on his way to victory.
Right before the wire, Sporting Chance veered out badly under Luis Saez, giving 3-1 choice Free Drop Billy a chance. Outside of Sporting Chance inside the furlong pole, Free Drop Billy quickly found himself inside his erratic foe and charged to catch him but fell a neck short. A jockey’s claim of foul by Robby Albarado against the winner was disallowed.
“He was perfect, I was going to win the race anyways so I wanted to teach him a little bit to the left because I had never hit him with the left,” Saez said. “So when I hit him a little he got scared and came out. I had the race I just wanted to teach him.
“He is one of the best horses I have ever rode in my life so I want to be okay with him, so he learned a little bit in the game today. But Jesus, when he came out like that I almost fell.”
Sporting Chance paid $13.40 after completing seven furlongs over a good track in 1:23.71. Free Drop Billy had a head up on Givemeaminit, with Firenze Fire, National Flag, Oskar Blues, Mojovation, and Psychoanalyze completing the order of finish.
“I thought [Sporting Chance] ran even better than I expected. I expected him to run a strong race,” winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “I would’ve liked to have seen it without incident. You want everything to go smooth. I don’t think it diminished his quality any, I think we’ll move forward from this. Stuff like this is very correctable.”
This was the Hall of Fame conditioner’s eighth win in the historic Hopeful, and the third for owners Robert Baker and Bill Mack. Lukas trained the Baker/Mack-owned Dublin (2009) and Strong Mandate (2013) to victory, as well as Deposit Ticket (1990), Salt Lake (1991), Hennessy (1995), High Yield (1999) and Yonaguska (2000).
“I don’t think the other seven helped us today though. I think those seven are on their own merit. Today, we had to do it with this one.
“I’ve done it for Baker and Mack. I think they’ve won the last three. Strong Mandate and Dublin, they’re on a mini roll themselves. They’ve been great. They’ve been loyal 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. We’ve been great buying two a year.”
Second to eventual Ellis Park Juvenile winner Dak Attack in his June 15 debut at Churchill Downs, Sporting Chance broke his maiden at Saratoga on July 22, beating Givemeaminit by 2 1/4 lengths going 5 1/2 furlongs. He’s now won $269,140.
Bred in Kentucky by Hunter Valley, Sporting Chance was a $575,000 Keeneland September yearling. He’s a son of Tiznow and Wynning Ride, a multiple Grade 1-placed stakes-winning daughter of Candy Ride.