Most people watching the $100,000 Saranac Stakes (gr. IIIT) Sept. 2 figured that 34-1 longshot Mission Approved was nothing more than a pacesetter, earning modest early fractions on the Saratoga turf until one of the more explosive 3-year-olds, namely Distorted Reality, blew by down the stretch.
But it never happened.
Under the seasoned hands of Eibar Coa, Mission Approved took an early lead and then found more in the final furlong, holding on for a shocking three-quarter-length victory in the first graded stakes try of his career. It was the fourth win in just seven starts for the 3-year-old son of With Approval-Fortunate Find, a William Coyro New York homebred.
Trained by Gary Contessa, Mission Approved most recently placed seventh in the Glow Stakes Aug. 5 at Saratoga and was 22 1/4 lengths back in a Lexington Stakes loss at Keeneland in July. But with none of his 10 rivals challenging a pedestrian :49.23 half-mile pace, the 1 3/16-mile route set up perfectly for him.
“I left it up to Coa," said Contessa. "He never had it so easy on the lead. Today they just let him go out there and steal it, and he’s a New York-bred, too. It’s a beautiful thing!
“In the Lexington, he was bad in the paddock and washed out. Today he came out of the paddock high, but we had schooled him. The farther he goes, the faster he gets. He’s a big, good-looking, big-striding horse.”
Betting favorite Distorted Reality was in perfect stalking position the whole way, staying just outside of Mission Approved for much of the opening three-quarters. When they turned for home, John Velazquez asked Lexington winner Distorted Reality for more. But the son of Distorted Humor was never able to get by the winner, finishing second, just in front of late-charging Pays to Dream, who rallied from last.
Mission Approved paid an even $70.00 to win, while the exacta (3-7) was worth $347.00. The final time was 1:53.81.
“It wasn’t our plan to take the lead, but it worked out that way," said Coa. "When we took the lead and no one was going after us, I wanted to see how this was going to work. After the half-mile, I knew we were going easy. The question was if he would have enough in the end.”
Diamond Fever, who entered the race with four consecutive wins, also pressed the early pace with Distorted Reality, but tired at the top of the stretch and finished seventh.