Seven two-year-old colts are expected to line up for the traditional Saratoga finale, the Grade I Hopeful Stakes, on Monday afternoon. Going as Race 10 on an 11-race program, post time for the $350,000 event is estimated at 5:44 p.m. EST. The Hopeful offers valuable points in FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game, so be sure to study it carefully!
#4 BITUMEN was installed as the 2-1 favorite on the strength of his Grade III Sanford win earlier in the Saratoga meet. He’s demonstrated versatility in his first two starts (both wins), as he’s be able to win on the lead and from off the pace. Javier Castellano chose this one over #3 RUNAWAY LUTE (9-2) and he’s flashed a bullet work in preparation for this. However, BITUMEN’s speed figures declined from start one to start two, which is a bit concerning. He’s a chief contender, but he can be beaten.
#6 CLASSIC EMPIRE (5-2) is my top pick by a narrow margin in a very challenging edition of the Hopeful. He’s 2-for-2 in his brief career for Mark Casse, who moves this one up from Churchill Downs after taking the Grade III Bashford Manor back in July. Like many of the contenders in this heat he’ll be stretching out to seven furlongs for the first time, but his pedigree says he can handle it (he’s a $450k son of Pioneerof The Nile). He should also take to the Saratoga oval, as he fired a sharp work over it on Aug. 27. Julien Leparoux will be unable to ride CLASSIC EMPIRE due to injury, but Irad Ortiz Jr. chose this one over #2 PRACTICAL JOKE (more on him soon), which is a confidence booster. The only knock on this horse is that he’s started slowly in both of his career starts, but he broke from the occasionally-tricky rail post each time.
PRACTICAL JOKE (3-1) has only a maiden win to his credit but he goes for leading conditioner Chad Brown and lures top pilot Jose Ortiz. He overcame a bump at the break and a four-wide trip to crush a field of maidens by five lengths over this course last month. PRACTICAL JOKE may be untested but he clearly has talent and shouldn’t be left out.
The play: $2 trifecta box 2/4/6, $2 exacta 6/2,4 ($16)
DFJ analysis: Irad Ortiz Jr. ($11,500) may still be looking up at younger brother Jose in the jockey standings, but he has a good chance to make the final day of the meet a memorable one. He rides in all but one of the 11 races on the card, and starts the day on a 7-5 favorite. Later on he’ll have a pair of 7-2 shots for Rudy Rodriguez and Todd Pletcher, respectively, then Ortiz Jr. rides live longshot Solemn Tribute in the Grade II Bernard Baruch.
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