Flight plans kept commercial pilot Bob Burton from being at Saratoga Race Course to watch the Hopeful on Monday.
His namesake, Shanghai Bobby, took off without him.
As the 144th meet closed, the 2-year-old colt owned by Starlight Racing won the Grade II Hopeful by 33⁄4 lengths and gave Starlight co-managing partner Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg one of the greatest thrills he’s had at his hometown track.
The 1970 Mont Pleasant High School graduate, who was introduced to eventual Starlight partner Jack Wolf by Burton at a party in 2004, won a Saratoga juvenile graded stakes for the third time, to go with Octave’s Adirondack in 2006 and Position Limit’s Adirondack in 2010.
“Octave’s Adirondack was very special for us because, at the time, we had a lot going on, but from a colt standpoint, this is the best, for me, being at Saratoga and to have a colt of this caliber with a lot of potential,” Lucarelli said. “It’s very, very gratifying.
“I hope everybody in Schenectady had him.”
Burton was supposed to watch Shanghai Bobby in the Saratoga Special on Aug. 12, but the Harlan’s Holiday colt came down with a little bit of a fever the morning of the race, and was scratched.
Burton, who frequently makes runs to Shanghai and Tokyo for Delta Airlines, couldn’t get his flight schedule changed for the Hopeful, and had to miss the race.
He would’ve been proud of Shanghai Bobby, who remained undefeated in three starts and became a two-time stakes winner in the Hopeful, which carried a $100,000 bonus to Starlight under a new juvenile program that rewards horses who break their maiden in New York and then win a graded stakes here.
Coupled with Starlight’s Lawn Man, who finished last, Shanghai Bobby and jockey Rosie Napravnik stalked Majestic Hussar and Overanalyze down the backstretch.
He went around those two coming off the turn and took the lead as they approached the eighth pole.
Fortify, an impressive winner for Godolphin Racing on Aug. 4, came up to secure the second spot, but never threatened Shanghai Bobby in the stretch, as Sanford winner Bern Identity was third.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had three in the Hopeful, the Starlight duo and Mike Repole’s Overanalyze, and got his 23rd juvenile win of the meet.
“We’ve been blessed with a lot of nice 2-year-olds this year,” Pletcher said. “It’s nice to win the Hopeful to close it out. The Hopeful is a very important race and should be a Grade I, but that’s a different story. We’re happy to get it.”
“He showed today that he’s a good caliber horse and can take the next logical step at Belmont, and hopefully, off to the Breeders’ Cup,” Lucarelli said. “Actually, we pretty much knew that Bobby was the better of the two. He came out of the gate clean, and Rosie’s an excellent jockey and knows what to do. We drew well, post position is very important in this race, and she was able to look over and see everything that was going on.”
Napravnik had a difficult decision to make for the Hopeful, since she’s also the regular rider for Bern Identity.
Shanghai Bobby ran 1:22.72, the second-fastest Hopeful since the race was stretched to seven furlongs in 1994. Came Home ran 1:214⁄5 in 2001.
“Today, he was keyed up,” Napravnik said. “It was all positive energy. He was ready to go. He did rate properly and finished really strong. He’s a very talented horse. I really liked this horse since day one. He’s very sensible, and he’s been moving forward every race and really maturing.”
“That was a very professional effort from him,” Pletcher said. “So far, he’s been very good. It seemed like he won with a little something left today; he was pricking his ears when he came to the wire. We’re very proud of him.”
Lucarelli raised the possibility of skipping the Breeders’ Cup because raceday Lasix will not be allowed for the juvenile races this year, as a lead-in to a possible ban for all BC races next year.
In the meantime, Shanghai Bobby will likely head to the Champagne.
Like his colt, Lucarelli excused himself from the media in the winner’s circle to get some bubbly in the NYRA trustees room.