By Mike Kane
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – After watching GIII Schuylerville S. winner Becky's Joker (Practical Joke) work a bullet half-mile Wednesday, trainer Gary Contessa said he may buck convention, take a step back in time and run her in the GIII Adirondack on Aug. 6.
Becky's Joker turned in a stunning performance on opening day, July 13, easily winning the six-furlong Schuylerville by 3 1/4 lengths at 21-1 in the first start of her career. According to Equibase, she is the fifth horse since 1991 to win a graded stakes in her debut.
Years ago during the 24-day Saratoga meets, it was not unusual for trainers to enter their 2-year-old fillies in two or all three of the stakes, the Schuylerville, the 6 1/2-furlong Adirondack and the seven-furlong GI Spinaway. As trainers have sought more time between starts, fillies that raced in the Schuylerville would not compete again until the Spinaway on the closing weekend.
The last horse to win the Schuylerville and the Adirondack was Over All (Mr. Prospector), trained by D. Wayne Lukas, in 1987. Lukas also did the double with Sacahuista (Raja Baba) in 1986.
Contessa was so happy with the way Becky's Joker looked during her half-mile move of :47.40, fastest of 11 at the distance, on the Oklahoma training track that he said the Adirondack was now in play.
“I'm not going to say that she is a definite, but she has gone from questionable to probable for the Adirondack off this work today. It was so impressive,” Contessa said. “She can work herself to death and not get paid or she can run in the Adirondack. She's forced us to lean in that direction.”
Contessa said that owner Lee Pokoik will make the final call, but he said Pokoik seems inclined to go to the Adirondack.
“[If] it was up to me, I lean toward running her,” Contessa said. “I don't have a problem with waiting for the Spinaway and I know how good she is right now. Look, I've got to train her or run her and she's good right now.”
Contessa said she did the work, her first since the Schuylerville, under “a death hold” by exercise rider Carlos Lopez. He said he told Lopez not to move on her during the breeze.
“I wanted :50, but I know that's not really in her wheelhouse, so I'm not unhappy,” he said. “As long as it's the way that they do it. As long as the rider is motionless and she is pulling him out of the saddle, that's what she wants to do. She didn't look it, but she went :47 and two.”