An anticipated stretch battle between the unbeaten colts First Samurai and Henny Hughes never materialized when prohibitive choice Henny Hughes offered no response in the $245,000 Hopeful (gr. I) for 2-year-olds Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
First Samurai, ridden by Jerry Bailey for trainer Frank Brothers, came home in a slow 14 seconds for the final eighth of the seven-furlong Hopeful after pressing a fast pace. But Henny Hughes, ideally placed by Gary Stevens coming off the turn, was losing ground late as First Samurai cruised home by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:23 1/5.
First Samurai became a grade I winner in his first stakes start.
Henny Hughes, the 3-5 choice after his 3 3/4-length romp in the Saratoga Special (gr. II) July 28, held off the pacesetting Too Much Bling and Javier Castellano by one length for second. Tizzys No Saint and Winning Minister trailed.
First Samurai, who was washy in the post parade and acted up in the starting gate, lugged in through the stretch but was clearly the best as he won for the third straight time. Bailey placed him in second just on the outside of Too Much Bling, who set a crisp pace, going :22 1/5 and :44 4/5. As they came off the turn, First Samurai was on the leader as Henny Hughes was poised on the far outside in third. But only First Samurai went on from there.
"He shook loose at the top of the stretch, but that was the second time he lugged in," Bailey said of his sixth Hopeful winner. "But he's young, and we hope it's just a learning process. He has shown he has a lot of room for improvement, especially if he cuts out the two-year-old stuff. But he is very unique, and part of the reason is because he has a whole lot of ones (victories)."
According to Brothers, First Samurai might be doing some more learning at Belmont Park this fall in the $1.5 million Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on Oct. 29
"He's still pretty green, but any time you win a grade I in Saratoga, it's pretty good," Brothers said. "I felt good going into the race, but I knew with Henny Hughes in the race that it was going to be tough. I had things my own way, and I was very happy with the way he finished."
First Samurai has been impressive in all three of his starts in spite of being green. His debut maiden win came by 5 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs with Pat Day aboard July 9. United with Bailey for the first time Aug. 7 at Saratoga, the chestnut son of Giant's Causeway
beat a first-level allowance group by six lengths in a time of 1:10 1/5 for six furlongs. He earned $150,000 for owners Bruce Lunsford and Lansdon B. Robbins III.
John D. Gunther bred the winner, who is from the Dixieland Band mare Freddie Frisson, in Kentucky.
The second choice in the field, First Samurai paid $6.10, $2.60, and $2.10. Henny Hughes returned $2.20 and $2.10. Too Much Bling's show was $2.10. The exacta came back $9.70.
Too Much Bling, who ran third for trainer Bob Baffert, raced on the anti-bleeding medication Lasix for the first time. He had to overcome the rail post position and a stumbling start and still turned in a strong effort as he was hustled to the lead.
"We went a little fast early," Baffert said. "I'm just getting to know the horse, and we need to get him to relax a little bit. He showed some determination in the stretch, and I think we can improve off that. We are running against the best two-year-olds in the country, so I am pleased. Hopefully, he comes back in great shape. He's got a good future ahead of him and we're going to take our time with him."