The boutique meets of Saratoga and Del Mar came to a close on Labor Day with a pair of prestiguous events for two-year-olds that both had the potential of yielding future Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders.
At Saratoga, Practical Joke overcame a moderate pace to edge long-time leader Royal Copy in the $350,000 Hopeful (G1). Trained and ridden by Chad Brown and Jose Ortiz, respectively the meet leaders in their categories at Saratoga, Practical Joke won by a neck in a time of 1:23.39 for seven furlongs on a fast track and paid $6.20.
The race was marred by the early defection of 8-5 favorite Classic Empire, who wheeled shortly after leaving the starting gate and dumped jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
Practical Joke, who broke his maiden at first asking over the same track August 6, is owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence.
"It's been a pleasure to train him," said Brown of Practical Joke, a son of Into Mischief that earned $210,000 for the win. "That first race I thought he ran well and his second time here he also came back to run a huge race. He was able to sit off and track the pace. Jose gave him an unbelievable ride and he looked like he was extending away in the stretch. So, I don't think any added distance will be an issue."
Practical Joke is expected to use the $500,000 Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park
on October 8 as his final prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa
At Del Mar, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert captured the $300,345 Del Mar Futurity (G1) for the 13th time in the last 21 years when Klimt wore down 4-5 favorite Straight Fire in mid-stretch and pulled away to a commanding 4 1/4-length win.
Owned by Kaleem Shah and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Klimt covered seven-eighths on a fast track in 1:21.80 and paid $7 as the second choice.
Unfortunately, the Futurity was also marred when third choice Chasing Aces was pulled up in upper stretch with what turned out to be a fatal injury.
"We've always thought that going two turns is where he's really going to excel," Baffert said of Klimt. "He's got a great mind, will sit off of horses and (Rafael) Bejarano rode a great race. He didn't chase anything, he just sat (off the pace), rode his own horse and showed a lot of patience. Coming to the top of the stretch, I knew he was loaded and I said 'I just hope that other horse (Straight Fire) doesn't have another gear.' It was very exciting to watch."
A son of Quality Road, Klimt is hoping to become the the third consecutive Del Mar Futurity winner to go on and take the Kentucky Derby following American Pharoah and Nyquist. He could make his final Breeders' Cup prep in the $300,000 FrontRunner (G1) at Santa Anita on October 1.