Stakes Preview – The Grade 1 Hopeful

topbanner>Saratoga/ September 1 / Race 4/ 2:36 EDT

Monday marks the end of another Saratoga meet, and it will close out with the final Grade 1 of the stand, the Hopeful Stakes for 2yos over 7 furlongs.

It has drawn a field of just seven (six betting interests), but, if nothing else, a very interesting matchup awaits between Grade 2 Saratoga Special winner I Spent It and Todd Pletcher’s Competitive Edge, who was perhaps the most impressive debut winner of the year in NY.

They are not the only players in this race, but they certainly are the major ones, so let’s begin with them.

Despite having just the one start, and despite conceding experience to his main rival, Competitive Edge has been installed at 6/5 on the ML. It’s easy enough to understand why he may go favored in the Hopeful. There were whispers leading up to his debut that he may be the best 2yo in the loaded Pletcher barn, and after that race was over (it only took 1:09.71 seconds), it was easy enough to believe that was true. Competititve Edge wound up over 10 lengths clear at the end while earning a 93 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the effort, looking every bit like a horse who would show up in a race like the Hopeful. There is nothing like natural ability in a young horse, for it can overcome a lot. Competitive Edge would appear to have natural ability in spades, and if he is going to build upon that debut run on Monday, then he will be a handful in the Hopeful.

There is one thing in racing that can sometimes trump natural ability, however, and that is experience. The horse Competitive Edge may wind up having to deal with late in the Hopeful is I Spent It, and he has that experience. After grinding out a debut win back on July 2nd (that is an early debut by today’s standards), I Spent It came to Saratoga to contest the Saratoga Special, and he picked up his game with that initial start under his belt. He was able to keep up behind the leaders early, and he looked like an older horse as he drove through a tight opening on the rail in mid-stretch before going clear late. It wasn’t the fastest race in the world, and the 86 TFUS Speed Figure he earned likely does not have Competitive Edge quaking in his boots. But there is nothing like a horse, especially a young one, knowing what he is out there for. And, if nothing else, I Spent It has that going for him.

Competitive Edge and I Spent It make for an enticing matchup, but they are not the only horses to consider in the Hopeful. Requite was a much-buzzed-about first-time starter here on August 9th, going off favored in the face of a well-bet Pletcher firster named Two Weeks Off, who came back to win here on Saturday. Requite earned a speed figure of just 79 for that race, but he made quite an appearance on the race track that day, and he was well in control of that race from start to finish, while giving the impression of a horse doing only what was required of him that day. We think he is eligible for better, and we do not discount his chances to post an upset on Monday.

The fastest horse in the race, at least in terms of our speed figures, is Signature Cat. Signature Cat is still a maiden, but he flashed high speed in his debut before getting run down late by another impressive Pletcher 2yo named Blofeld. A couple of lengths behind Signature Cat that day was El Kabeir, who came back on Saturday to post a highly impressive (and fast) win of his own. Signature Cat may find himself in a tough situation, having to race Competitive Edge early, but he can have an impact on this race whether you like him or not.

For wagering purposes, we find it difficult to get too excited about the Hopeful. We prefer Competitive Edge to I Spent It, but have little interest in him at a short price. Perhaps by the time Monday afternoon rolls around we will have talked ourselves into taking a shot with Requite, though he would have to approach double-digit odds for that to happen. For now, we are content to wait for the Hopeful to play out and take some notes for later.

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