July 13, 2024

Hopeful pits Gulfport, Mo Strike versus flashy maiden winners

Gulfport wins the 2022 Bashford Manor (Coady Photography)

Saratoga brings down the curtain on Labor Day with a fascinating renewal of the $300,000 Hopeful (G1) for two-year-olds and the $200,000 Bernard Baruch H. (G3) for the turf crowd.

Hopeful (G1) – Race 11 (6:11 p.m. ET)

Sanford (G3) hero Mo Strike and Saratoga Special (G2) runner-up Gulfport – both sons of champion juvenile Uncle Mo – and a few flashy maiden winners make the seven-furlong feature a real treat.

Gulfport was the juvenile star of the Churchill Downs meet, romping by a combined margin of 19 lengths between his maiden and the Bashford Manor (G3). Those efforts made him the odds-on favorite in the Saratoga Special, but he ran into costly trouble, and a dynamo in the form of Damon’s Mound. While Gulfport lost his perfect mark, he still commanded respect by regrouping for second. The Steve Asmussen trainee looks to rebound with new rider Flavien Prat.

Mo Strike is 2-for-2, with a professional debut win at Churchill en route to a bigger-margin victory in the Sanford. The Brad Cox pupil forced the pace and drew off with authority, implying that an extra furlong would be no problem. The Hopeful field, however, is deeper. Also, beaten Sanford favorite Forte could be seen to better effect in the rematch. Farther back than expected in the Sanford, Todd Pletcher’s Belmont debut winner closed for fourth in the manner of a colt wanting more ground.

Blazing Sevens and Bourbon Bash arrive as gaudy maiden winners over the track. The Chad Brown-trained Blazing Sevens, from the first crop of champion Good Magic, swept past Bourbon Bash and opened up by 6 1/4 lengths. Tactically drawn on the outside in post 6, Blazing Sevens projects a similar stalking trip with Manny Franco.

Although Bourbon Bash was no match for Blazing Sevens in their mutual debut, he took a leap forward next time out for D. Wayne Lukas. By well-regarded freshman sire City of Light, and out of a Grade 3-placed, stakes-winning sister to Grade 1 sprinter Volatile, Bourbon Bash ran his foes off their feet on Aug. 13.

Lukas, a record eight-time Hopeful winner, also has Western Ghent in the line-up. The American Pharoah colt was unplaced in his first three tries, including a fifth behind Mo Strike, before graduating for a $75,000 tag on Aug. 25. He figures to show some speed on the rail.

Bernard Baruch H. (G3) – Race 3 (1:43 p.m. ET)

City Man comes off his biggest career win in the July 15 Forbidden Apple (G3). Trainer Christophe Clement intended for the New York-bred to defend his title in the West Point S., only to have the Aug. 26 event rained off the turf. With the Baruch contested over the same 1 1/16-mile trip on the inner turf as the West Point, it became a logical Plan B.

French import Mouillage returns from a six-month layoff for Brown in this spot. Group 3-placed as a juvenile, the son of Toronado signed off from Europe after capturing last September’s Prix Millkom. In his only stateside appearance, Mouillage was a close second in the Mar. 5 Canadian Turf (G3) to Mira Mission, who nearly upset the Sword Dancer (G1) in his latest. Stablemate Emaraaty sports a 3-for-4 mark at the Spa, including an allowance thriller over Floriform and Atone. Prat rides him back, while Irad Ortiz sticks with Mouillage.

The Pletcher-trained Winters Back has been sidelined for more than 13 months, since fading to seventh in last summer’s United Nations (G1). The lightly-raced son of Summer Front was previously second in the Monmouth (G3), and still has potential as a maternal relative of such turf stars as Perfect Shirl, Shirl’s Speight, Shakespeare, and Lady Speightspeare. He could opt to launch his comeback at Monmouth instead, as Pletcher has cross-entered him to Monday’s Red Bank S.

Tom Morley is double-handed with Dynadrive, upset winner of the Lure S. last out, and multiple New York-bred stakes scorer Ocala Dream. Dynadrive will try to emulate half-brother Tell Your Daddy, likewise a Morley claim who won the 2021 Bernard Baruch. Ocala Dream, 0-for-3 at Saratoga, was rerouted from the West Point.