'High' Hopes in Hopeful Showdown

High Oak | Sarah Andrew

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No less than five undefeated 2-year-olds–including two graded winners–line up for Saratoga's Labor Day finale in the GI Hopeful S. Hard to separate, at least on paper, are Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Gainesway's Wit (Practical Joke) and LRE Racing and JEH Racing's High Oak (Gormley). The former earned TDN Rising Star billing when kicking off his career with a six-length score at Belmont June 5. Equally impressive in his return in the July 17 GIII Sanford S., the Todd Pletcher trainee cruised home an easy eight-length winner in the six-furlong test and gets to show if he can handle the extra yardage this time. Pletcher is also represented by Repole and St. Elias Stable's Power Agenda (Nyquist), who enters her off a nose victory in his unveiling Aug. 14. Irad Ortiz Jr. returns to partner Wit, while Manny Franco gets the call on the latter.

“Wit has the advantage of having a couple of starts,” said Pletcher of the $575,000 KEESEP purchase. “He deserves the chance to step up. I think the way Wit finished up going six furlongs you would think seven would be no problem,” Pletcher said. “Power Agenda was game in his only start and he should be able to handle the distance.”

Pletcher won the Hopeful on three prior occasions with Circular Quay [2006], Shanghai Bobby [2012] and Competitive Edge [2014].

While less flashy in his debut, High Oak did just what he had to do to triumph by a neck in the 5 1/2-furlong test at Belmont June 26. Showing a little more flare for his latest, he came from off the pace to win by a widening 4 1/2-length margin in the GII Saratoga Special Aug. 14. Since that effort, the colt has been showing some lick in the mornings over the Oklahoma track, including the latest a bullet three furlongs in :35.44 Sept. 3. Junior Alvarado, who was aboard for the colts first two starts, returns for this Grade I debut.

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