Opry rallied from last in the stretch before closing strong from the outside in the final furlong for an impressive maiden-breaking effort Wednesday in the 14th running of the Grade 3, $150,000 The With Anticipation for juveniles at Saratoga Race Course.
Owned by Gaillardia Stable and Cheyenne Stables, Opry broke last in a six-horse field as Joyful Heart went to the front on the Mellon turf course labeled firm, going an opening quarter-mile in 23.29 seconds and the half in 47.91.
Under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, Opry stayed behind the pack along the backstretch, falling nearly six lengths behind the pacesetter, before gaining ground close to the far turn. Near the eighth pole, Castellano set down Opry, who surged from the far outside to overtake the entire field, outkicking even-money favorite Somelikeithotbrown by 1 ½ lengths, completing 1 1/16 miles in a final time of 1:42.00.
After running third in his debut on August 11 at the Spa in a seven-furlong race moved off the turf, trainer Todd Pletcher said the Declaration of War colt didn't break well but still was impressive running on turf for the first time.
"I thought he'd break a little better than he did his first time out with that experience, but he clearly didn't. Talking to Javier after, he said even though he was pretty far back, he felt like he had a lot of horse and he was finding a good rhythm, so he felt very confident down the backside," Pletcher said. "The plan was to run him on the dirt when we initially entered him, and he drew the also eligible. That race came off the turf and we decided not to run even though we could've drawn in.
"We entered him back and the race came off the turf again, and so I figured he trained well enough on the dirt that we needed to get him started," he added. "He ran a respectable race that day and I'd been impressed enough with his turf works to think it wasn't crazy to enter here. For now, we'll look to stay on the turf and see what he does."
Off at 7-2, Opry paid $9.80 on a $2 win wager. He improved his career earnings nearly nine-fold to $92,700.
"He broke a bit slow out of the gate, but he didn't panic," Castellano said. "This was his second start and first time on the grass. I wanted to let him figure it out by himself a little, and this is a nice horse. Todd told me in the paddock that he really like this horse and the way he's worked on the grass. After the break, we were really able to comfortable and going to put us in a good spot in the race. I really liked the way he finished. He came on really strong and was impressive. After the wire he continued to gallop out past the field. I think this is a horse to look out for in the future on the grass."
Somelikeithotbrown, a New York bred trained by Mike Maker, bested Joyful Heart by 2 ¼ lengths for second in his stakes debut.
Swamp Rat, Seanow and Gunslinger completed the order of finish. Henley's Joy and Yes and Yes were scratched, as were main-track only entrants Lexitonian, Stage Left and Backtohisroots.