Becky's Joker Continues to Defy Odds with Unconventional Spa Schedule

Becky's Joker | Sarah Andrew


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.–Trainer Gary Contessa believes in Becky's Joker (Practical Joke) and is not going to waver from his against-the-grain approach with the massive 2-year-old filly.

On the opening day of the Saratoga season, July 13, Contessa had her make her career debut in the GIII Schuylerville. She won for fun by 3 1/4 lengths at 21-1. According to Equibase, she is just the fifth horse since 1991 to start its career with a graded-stakes victory.

After she worked four furlongs in :48.40 seconds on July 26, Contessa said she was a probable starter in the GIII Adirondack S. on Sunday. Following her :48.77 half-mile work on Tuesday, Contessa said Wednesday he definitely would enter her in the Adirondack rather than wait for the GI Spinaway S. on Sept. 3.

The last time a Schuylerville winner ran back in the Adirondack was in 1999 when Magicalmysterycat (Storm Cat) ended up fourth in the second leg of Saratoga's juvenile fillies series.

Contessa is a veteran horseman who is not bound by current norms.

“I'm kind of old school. I race a horse if they're ready to run,” he said. “I don't say, 'Oh my, God, I ran a 2-year-old. I have to give it six weeks to the next.' Nah. I'm old-school.”

Contessa touted Becky's Joker to everyone before the Schuylerville and was not surprised when she won. He said after the race that he and owner Lee Pokoik would look to the Spinaway for her next start.

“I didn't want to run her three times at the meet. But if you really do the math, this is 23 days to this race. Not bad,” Contessa said. “And she's training great and she's a happy horse. Then it's 28 days to the Spinaway. It's not like we're not getting

some time in between.”

Contessa said that if she runs well in the Adirondack, she will go on to the seven-furlong Spinaway. The last Schuylerville winner to run in all three races was Turnback the Alarm (Darn That Alarm) trained by Red Terrill in 1991. She was third in the Adirondack and second in the Spinaway.

The last horse to complete the rare sweep was Over All (Mr. Prospector) in 1989.

Contessa bought Becky's Joker, already an above-average sized filly, as a weanling at Keeneland November 2021 for $130,000. She didn't reach her reserve when offered as a yearling or as a 2-year-old. Contessa had her shipped to his stable at Saratoga in early May and began getting her ready to run in Pokoik's colors. Her size, once considered a negative, has turned out to be an asset. Contessa said she stands about 16.3 hands and estimates that she weighs 1,250 pounds. He figures she will be 17 hands.

When he purchased her, Contessa acknowledged that he wondered whether she would be able to get to the races because big, young horses are prone to injuries.

“But you never know how precocious a horse might be,” he said. “She has defied the odds. There's an exception to every rule. Sometimes there's many exceptions to every rule and this filly is the exception to every rule.

“I'm sure, there are a lot of people that looked at her at the 2-year-old sales and said, 'I like her a lot, but she's too big.' And to me, she was never really too big. I always liked her.

Contessa said the Becky's Joker has made a believer out of some doubters.

“The day that I bought her as a weaning at six months and sent her to Taylor Made, Frank Taylor picked up the phone and said, “As a yearling, Frank called me and said 'Gary, she's kind of big.' Then as a 2-year-old in training, he said, 'Gary, she's kind of big.' Then, after she won the stake, he called me and he said, 'I guess she's not too big.'”

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