By Richard Rosenblatt
A smashing debut at Saratoga Race Course three weeks ago, a leisurely breeze at the Spa last week, and it’s “all systems go” for Gozilla in the $350,000 Runhappy Hopeful (G1) on Monday, the final day of the summer season at the historic track in upstate New York.
In a much-anticipated first start on Aug. 10, the 2-year-old chestnut son of Flatter shot to the lead early under Ricardo Santana, Jr., and cruised to a 4 1/2-length victory in a six-furlong maiden special weight.
The performance occurred one race before Stronach Stables’ Green Light Go took the 6 ½-furlong Saratoga Special (G2) also in convincing fashion — by 3 ¾ lengths to up his record to 2-for-2.
This dynamic duo, along with five other talented juveniles, meet in the seven-furlong Hopeful, a race that gives great hope to the winning connections that they have a young horse good enough to make a run at the Kentucky Derby (G1) – and beyond — as a 3-year-old.
Green Light Go is the 8-5 morning-line favorite, and leaves from the No. 3 post under Junior Alvarado, coming into the race on a high after winning Saturday’s $750,000 Woodward (G1) aboard Preservationist – Jimmy Jerkens trains both horses.
“We’re going into it feeling well,’’ said Jerkens, who was considering the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park on Oct. 5 for the colt’s next start but changed his mind because Green Light Go is training so well at Saratoga. “He likes it up here.”
Gozilla is owned by Zayat Stables, which campaigned 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. After the colt’s breeze on Aug. 26 – five furlongs in 1:02.25 – the stable tweeted “all systems go.” It was also recently announced that Ahmed Zayat, the stable’s chairman, had sold a 25 per cent interest in Gozilla to Gary Barber, the CEO of Spyglass Media who owns Preakness (G1) winner War of Will.
“We’re expecting a great performance by Gozilla,” said Justin Zayat, the stable’s president of racing and bloodstock. “Hopefully he runs like he did in his maiden.”
To get an idea of how impressive this colt is, consider: Santana is the regular rider for three of the horses in the Hopeful — Shoplifted and Basin are the others – and he opted for Gozilla. All three are trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.
Gozilla, the second choice at 5-2, leaves from the No. 4 post.
Let’s also note that Shoplifted broke his maiden at first asking, winning handily at 5 ½ furlongs on July 27 at the Spa; and Basin finished second by a nose to By Your Side in his first race and won next out on July 21 at the Spa. Shoplifted, with Joel Rosario aboard, is the 4-1 third choice, while Basin, with Jose Ortiz up, is 5-1.
American Butterfly has some champion connections. The colt is a son of American Pharoah and is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Hopeful a record eight times. Luis Saez has the call on the 15-1 long shot leaving from the rail
By Your Side, trained by Eddie Kenneally, is the other graded stakes winner in the field, taking the Sanford (G3) July 13 after breaking his maiden in his first start, at Churchill Downs on June 14. A 6-1 choice, he will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Inside Risk completes the field. A son of Street Sense, this colt won his first career on Aug. 1 at Saratoga, and is the longest shot in the field at 30-1. He will be ridden by Dylan Davis for trainer Tom Morley.
The Hopeful will be run for the 115th time. Among its race winners is a trio of horses that went on to become Triple Crown champions — Affirmed, Secretariat and Whirlaway.
The other graded-stakes race on Monday’s card is the $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2) for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
Saratoga’s top trainer Chad Brown has the slight favorite with Sacred Life at 5-2 in a field of seven. Mark Casse, who won the Preakness with War of Will and the Belmont Stakes (G1) with Sir Winston, sends out 3-1 second choice March to the Arch.
Brown has two other entries in Olympico at 5-1 and Emaraaty at 9-1. Also entered are Qurbaan, Dream Friend and Noble Indy.
The 4-year-old Sacred Life is making his 11th career start, but second for Brown after four wins and three seconds from nine races while running in France. In his first start for Brown, Sacred Life was second in the Fasig-Tipton Lure Stakes at the Spa on Aug. 3. Noble Indy is a veteran of the 2019 Triple Crown trail, running 17th in the Derby and 10th in the Belmont. Trainer Todd Pletcher has moved the 4-year-old to turf, with his most recent finish a fourth in the Lure.
A quick look at Saturday’s results:
Preservationist, guided by Junior Alvarado, made a strong move in mid-stretch and found the clearing he needed to split rivals and win the Woodward by a half-length.
Bal Harbour, a 16-1 long shot, took the lead from Mr. Buff heading off the final turn, and managed to hang on for second, with 2-1 favorite Yoshida a fast-closing third, another half-length back.
“I had a great trip. I tried to find my way through and have something turning for home, but it was hard,” said Alvarado, who was aboard Preservationist when he ran fourth in the Whitney (G1) in his previous start. “Javier (Castellano, aboard Bal Harbour) had some horse turning for home and I wanted to follow him but I know he didn’t want to move because then I would be in the clear. So, he tried to hold me there as long as he could. Turning for home, I had some run in between horses. They made it a little bit tight for me there, but at that point, I thought I had it.”
Preservationist, sent off at 3-1, won for the fourth time in five starts this year, and Jerkens is considering a possible next start in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 28, with the year-end goal of the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
In the other stakes:
Mrs. Sippy won in her North American debut by taking the $250,000 Glens Falls (G2), with stablemate Empressof the Nile finishing second for trainer Graham Motion. Under Joel Rosario, 6-1 choice Mrs. Sippy won by three-quarters of a length. Santa Monica, the 8-5 favorite, was third in the 1 3/8-mile race on turf
Royal Charlotte staged a late rally to upset 3-5 favorite Break Even by 1 ½ lengths in the five-horse $250,000 Prioress (G2) for 3-year-old fillies. It was the filly’s fifth win in six starts for trainer Chad Brown.
Global Access outkicked Good Governance and won the $200,000 Saranac (G3) by a neck in a field of five going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.