The Hopeful Stakes traditionally points out the 2-year-olds who will be the thoroughbred stars of the future. The ritziest stables at Saratoga point their best young horses for this race, and so it is usually a showcase for the finest bloodlines.
But the favorite for Saturday's 76th runnings of the Hopeful looks as out of place in this context as a hobo at the Gideon Putnam Hotel. The colt's name is West On Broad, and his pedigree is so obscure that it has sent breeding experts scurrying to their reference books.
West On Broad was bred in Ohio, and history suggests that Hopeful winners are just as likely to come from the moon as the Buckeye State. He is a son of Banquet Circuit, whose progeny typically sell for about $4,000 in this era of million-dollar yearlings. Banquet Circuit's most successful offspring last year was the very unfamous Fleetferd, winner of the Ohio Marathon Championship.
Olin Gentry, the manager of Darby Dan Farm, remembered that Banquet Circuit had been cut out to be a good one. "He was a brother of Chateaugay (a Kentucky Derby winner) and he showed a lot of promise as a 2-year-old. But he didn't do much."
Indeed, Banquet Circuit earned only $11,000 in a brief career and didn't merit going to stud in company with the great stallions on his Kentucky Farm. Owner John Galbreath sent Banquet Circuit to his farm in Ohio, the equine version of Siberia.
There he was bred to mares even more obscure than himself, until Galbreath was touched by a bit of sentiment. He dispatched one of his best mares, Stealaway, from Kentucky to Ohio, hoping to add a touch of class to that state's breeding program.
Galbreath may have succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Going into the Hopeful, at least, West On Broad appears to be the best 2-year-old in the country.
Trainer Lou Rondinello doesn't ask too much too soon of his young horses, but West On Broad developed fast. He finished out of the money in his debut at Belmont Park, finished in a dead heat to win in his second start, and then captured an allowance race at Saratoga, running six furlongs in 1:10 flat. It was the fastest performance by a 2-year-old at this meeting, and one of the most authoritative.
Rondinello acknowledged that West On Broad seems ready to develop some shin problems -- a common malady of 2-year-olds -- and will be rested for a number of weeks after Saturday. But in the Hopeful he can establish himself as the preeminent member of his generation.
His most accomplished rivals are Traveling Music, who led all the way to win Monmouth's Sapling Stakes, the most important 2-year-old race run yet this year; and Well Decorated, a wire-to-wire, 4 1/2-length winner of the Saratoga Special. But his chief competition is likely to come from Tap Shoes, the only colt in the field who has shown a powerful stretch kick.
Tan Shoes has the kind of predigree that is customarily found in the winner's circle after the Hopeful. Bred in Kentucky, he is the son of Riva Ridge and a Bold Bidder mare. If he beats the humble West On Broad Saturday, he can reassure the breeding experts that there is still some order in the universe.