Sporting Chance gave Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Kentucky Derby (G1) winner D. Wayne Lukas his eighth career victory in the $350,000 Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga on Labor Day, but nearly gave the race away in the final yards when unexpectedly bolting towards the stands side rail under the left-handed urging of Luis Saez.
The 5-1 fourth choice in the seven-furlong test for juveniles, Sporting Chance hounded early leader National Flag from second until passing that rival at the quarter pole. Opening a 1 1/2-length lead after six furlongs and holding steady inside the sixteenth marker, Sporting Chance suddenly bolted out several paths, allowing favorite Free Drop Billy a late chance to win. However, the wire came just in time for Sporting Chance to hang on by a neck.
"He didn't disappoint me at all. I thought he ran even better than I expected," Lukas said. "I expected him to run a strong race. I would've liked to have seen it without incident. You want everything to go smooth. I don't think it diminished his quality any, I think we'll move forward from this. Stuff like this is very correctable."
Sporting Chance covered the distance over a good track in 1:23.71 and paid $13.40. Free Drop Billy, the 3-1 chance, was a head in front of Givemeaminit at the wire.
A son of Tiznow, Sporting Chance was the third Hopeful win for owners Robert Baker and Bill Mack, who also won with Dublin (2009) and Strong Mandate (2013). Both those colts were also trained by Lukas.
Second in his June 15 debut at Churchill Downs to future stakes winner Dak Attack, Sporting Chance rebounded to break his maiden by 2 1/4 lengths at Saratoga on July 22. He's now earned more than $259,000.
(Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography)