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Longshot Nutella Fella Mows Down Rivals in Hopeful

Trainer Gary Contessa started the 155th Saratoga Race Course meet by winning the initial stakes with a 2-year-old filly who was making her very first start in the Schuylerville Stakes (G3).

In the final stakes of the 40-day meet, he somehow found a way to top that 21-1 feat he managed to pull off with Becky’s Joker .

In the penultimate race of a tumultuous meet, Contessa pulled off a 54-1 stunner as Bell Gable Stable’s Nutella Fella  broke last but surged to the front in the final yards to post a 1 1/2-length victory and capture the $300,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) for 2-year-olds while giving the colt’s sire, Breeders’ Cup winner Runhappy  , his first grade 1 winner.

“When I looked at the field I said, ‘This is a salty field, but if you look at his workouts, they’ve been phenomenal.’ So, it’s kind of like Becky’s Joker. He had the workouts and the question was, is he good enough? Sure enough, he is,” Contessa said.

Nutella Fella #3 with jockey Junior Alvarado comes up on the outside of the field on the way to the win in the 119th running of The Hopeful at the Saratoga Race Course Monday Sept. 4,  2023 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Photo  by Skip Dickstein
Photo: Skip Dickstein

Nutella Fella (green cap) rallies down the stretch of the Hopeful Stakes

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The closing-day, Sept. 4 win came in the bay colt’s first start for Contessa after the colt bred by Ashview Farm debuted with a 2 1/4-length victory for trainer Richard Sillaman at Delaware Park.

“The New York gate crew made this happen as much as I did. He was an absolute maniac in the gate at Delaware Park and Hector (Soler, the head starter) and the gate crew on the training track side worked with him every day and absolutely straightened him out, and I have a lot of thanks for that gate crew,” said Contessa, whose colt put in a speedy :34 4/5 Aug. 31 workout for the Labor Day race.

The complexion of the seven-furlong Hopeful changed when trainer Bob Baffert elected to scratch morning-line favorite Muth  in favor of running in the Oct. 7 American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park. But that still left a number of highly regarded starters including 2-1 favorite Timberlake , a dazzling maiden winner in his second start; 5-2 second choice Be You , who was beaten by a nose in his debut; and 3-1 third-choice Gold Sweep , who was a game second in the Sanford Stakes (G3) at the Spa after stumbling at the start.

Yet in the end, the race belonged to Nutella Fella, who broke slowly and was still ninth in the field of 10 after a blistering :44.89 half-mile. He moved widest and quickest in the stretch to motor past the field and give Contessa his first grade 1 win since 2018 and third in a career that dates back more than 35 years.

“I was lucky to be last and I was able to bide my time until I made my run,” jockey Junior Alvarado said.  

A five-way battle on the front end produced those fast fractions with Just Steel  leading and Siena Farm and WinStar Farm’s Timberlake a close up fourth after breaking next-to-last. Despite racing in tight quarters, Timberlake, a son of Into Mischief  , managed to find a hole and grabbed the lead inside the final furlong as the rest of the speedsters tired.

Yet from the back, Alvarado was gaining ground quickly on Nutella Fella ($111), who was tipped widest in the stretch and snatched the lead with 70 yards left.

Final time for the seven furlongs was 1:24.41.

Owner Nick Beaver gives Nutella Fella a kiss on the nose after winningin the 119th running of The Hopeful at the Saratoga Race Course Monday Sept. 4,  2023 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Photo by Skip Dickstein
Photo: Skip Dickstein

Owner Nick Beaver of Bell Gable Stable gives Nutella Fella a kiss on the nose after winning the Hopeful Stakes

Contessa said next stop for Nutella Fella would be the Oct. 7 Champagne Stakes (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack, with the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) a possibility if all goes well.

“Champagne to Breeders’ Cup, unless he throws us a curve,” Contessa said. “He’s going to stay up here the next six weeks with me and we’ll be racing in the Champagne from here. I think (he’ll get two turns). It looked like it today.”

Timberlake, trained by Brad Cox, held on for second by a neck over Harrell Ventures and Starlight Racing’s Pirate , an Omaha Beach   colt trained by Todd Pletcher who went off at 10-1 from the outside post.

“I thought I was in pretty good shape. (Nutella Fella) just kicked on the outside by everybody at the end, so I don’t really know,” said Florent Geroux, who rode Timberlake. “I tried to keep him settled as much as I could. Not an easy job with a big horse like this, being right between horses, but I tried my best to keep him settled. He’s not a good gate horse, he’s too big. He’s always been a little bit sluggish, so it’s hard to establish good position with the horse that’s not going to break that sharp.”

Out of the Candy Ride   mare Krissy’s Candy , Nutella Fella was bought for $12,000 by Anthony Farrior from breeder Ashview Farm’s consignment at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Video: Hopeful S. (G1)

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