Yesterday, Saratoga’s last day of racing for 2016 featured the 112th running of the Hopeful Stakes, a seven-furlong race for two-year-olds. This year’s winner was Practice Joke, a colt who showed that breaking his maiden in his first start was no joke.
The Hopeful’s history is long and storied, its list of winners including many legendary horses, including Regret, Man O’War, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Secretariat, and Affirmed. If you look up the 1918 running of the Hopeful, you’ll see that the winner was a horse named Eternal, who would go on to become one of the winter book favorites for the Kentucky Derby, along with Billy Kelly. Another starter in the 1918 version was a chestnut colt named Sir Barton.
Ten days or so earlier, Sir Barton had gone from the barn of his breeder John E. Madden to that of Commander John Kenneth Leveson Ross, his reported price tag to be around $10,000. The colt’s workouts had promised many good things, but his race performances had fallen well short of that promise. Now, in the Ross barn, his preparation was turned over to trainer Harvey Guy Bedwell, who figured out that the Star Shoot colt didn’t respond to workouts unless he had company. They entered Sir Barton in the Hopeful, hopeful that he would break his maiden and make good on all of his promises.
He would finish 16th out of 20 horses, rewarding his new owner with another lackluster performance. His pedigree held prestige, his workouts demonstrated speed, but Sir Barton wasn’t ready yet. When he was, though, this son of Star Shoot showed everyone what being the right horse in the right place at the right time could become.