It has been a typical summer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for trainer Todd Pletcher. Typical in the sense that he has once again used one of the nation's top meetings as his own personal showcase.
He already has a record number of wins in his pocket and his eighth Spa trainer's title locked up. All that is left for Pletcher to do on Saratoga's closing day is try and give another demonstration of his stable's seemingly endless depth.
Although his leading juvenile prospect, Sanford Stakes winner Overdriven, is sidelined for the remainder of the year, Pletcher won't let Monday's Grade I, $250,000 Hopeful Stakes go off without his presence being felt.
Pletcher will saddle recent maiden winners Big Blue Nation and Hunt Crossing in the 7-furlong Hopeful, which features a field of 10 2-year-old males seeking to establish some early divisional leadership.
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Any University of Kentucky fans who hunch bet Big Blue Nation's first time out were rewarded with the kind of result they expect from such a renowned moniker. The son of Bluegrass Cat was sent off at odds of 33-to-1 in his career debut at Churchill Downs on July 3, but prevailed by three-quarters of a length in the 6-furlong race after prompting the early fractions.
The bay colt was subsequently purchased privately by Bortoazzo Stable and transferred from trainer Rusty Arnold to Pletcher, who gave the go-ahead for the Hopeful following the colt's strong 5-furlong breeze in 1:00.47 on Aug. 30.
"Big Blue Nation we've had for about three weeks now and he seems to be training well," said Pletcher, who won the 2006 Hopeful with Circular Quay. "We were also pleased with Hunt Crossing's maiden win and pleased with the way he's trained since then, so we're going to take a shot."
Trying to assess which lightly raced baby will take the next step forward can be as much a guessing game for horsemen as it is for handicappers. Judging by what trainer Teresa Pompay saw from her charge Currency Swap in his debut on Aug. 6, she is confident the son of High Cotton is ready to separate himself from his competition.
Currency Swap broke his maiden in spectacular fashion, winning a 61/2-furlong race at Saratoga by 6 lengths after making a four-wide bid on the turn. The fact he has already handled more distance than most of his rivals have tried combined with mature demeanor helped make him the 3-to-1 second choice in the morning line behind 5-to-2 pick J C's Pride.
"I just think he's a little bit of a freak," Pompay said. "From day one he's just shown a lot of class. He's always acted like an older horse. And I also think he's going to love any kind of added distance as we go forward."
After running second to Overdriven in his career debut, J C's Pride set a Saratoga track record on July 27 when he covered 5 furlongs in :56.54 in gate-to-wire fashion. His effort earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101, which is tied for the best among 2-year-olds this year.
"He's very, very rapid," said trainer Bobby Barbara. "But, he's very easy to handle. I'm hoping he gets out of the gate like he did in his first two starts, stays in front, and relaxes on the lead. If someone runs at him down the backside, he's not a horse who's going to grab the bridle and run off."