Few races have been such a predictor of future stardom as the Hopeful Stakes. Man O' War, Whirlaway, Secretariat and Affirmed all scored their first major success in this historic event.
So racing fans might make note of the name of Copelan, the undefeated colt who won the Hopeful's 78th running this afternoon. At the very least, he established himself as the best 2-year-old in the East this summer.
In his previous three starts, Copelan has shown he has the ability to battle head and head, set a pace that might be fatal for other horses, and then draw away from his rivals. "He likes to have horses hook him," trainer Mitchell Griffin said. "Then he bears down." That is just what he did today.
He broke sharply and dueled with another speedster, Cast Party, running the first quarter-mile in 22 1/5 seconds and the half in a very swift :44 4/5. At that point Cast Party and the other speed horses near him were finished, but Copelan seemed to be doing everything very easily. "I didn't ask him to run until after a half-mile," jockey Jerry Bailey said.
As he did, the 2-to-1 favorite Victorious was starting to make his move on the turn--but he wasn't making any headway on the leader. Copelan cruised away from his challenger in the stretch, winning by 3 1/4 lengths, covering the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16 3/5.
Copelan paid $8.60, $4.60 and $3.20. Victorious returned $4 and $3, and Aloha Hawaii, who finished another half length back, paid $5.20 to show.
The winner's performance left his trainer and jockey looking ahead with optimism to the big-money 2-year-old races in the fall, and even to the 3-year-old classics next year.
"I didn't want to comment on Copelan after the Sanford (Stakes) because I felt he didn't beat much there," Bailey said. "But I'll say it now: Copelan is a top colt. His manner and disposition make it possible for me to do anything I want with him. With his running style and disposition I know we'll get a distance of ground with him.