D. Wayne Lukas celebrated his 78th birthday in style on Monday, watching Strong Mandate stroll to a 9 ¾-length victory in the Grade 1, $300,000 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.
The bay son of Tiznow, owned by longtime Lukas clients Bob Baker and Bill Mack, was ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Staying clear on the outside, Ortiz and Strong Mandate hit the top of the stretch in front as pacesetter Corfu began to drop back, drawing clear with each stride down the middle of a muddy, sealed main track to hit the wire in 1:23.55 for seven furlongs.
Making his third start at Saratoga’s 150th anniversary meet, Strong Mandate returned $16.60 for a $2 bet as the 7-1 sixth choice in a field of 10 2-year-olds.
It was the seventh career victory for Lukas in the Hopeful, and first since 2009 with Dublin, also owned by Mack and Baker.
“I thought he’d run huge; I really did,” Lukas told NYRA Press. “I was a little concerned about the surface; you always are. He had a really good prep race, and he hadn’t done anything [wrong] since then. I thought we’d get a good one, but you never expect to waltz home like that, though. Ever.”
Strong Mandate debuted at Saratoga on July 22, finishing fifth of eight going 5 ½ furlongs, beaten 12 ¼ lengths. Fitted with blinkers for the first time, he returned on August 17, going gate-to-wire to break his maiden by 4 ½ lengths at odds of 16-1.
“I like to give all my horses a race without blinkers and let them get dirt in their face and go through the whole drill,” Lukas said. “Second out, you’ll see all my horses come with blinkers and usually improve, if they’ve got some ability. This is a pretty good horse.”
Casiguapo, the longest shot in the field at 30-1, closed from midpack to be second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Lunarwarfare. They were followed under the line by Big Sugar Soda, Grade 2 Sanford winner Wired Bryan, Long On Value, All in Blue, King Cyrus, Corfu and Southern Blessing.
“I asked him a little bit because I knew [Corfu] is a tough horse,” said Ortiz, who captured his first career Grade 1 race. “I cracked him one time on the shoulder and he put me right beside him, so I knew I had a lot of horse. At the eighth pole I looked back, and nobody was coming. I’m very happy, very excited.”
Purchased as a yearling for $200,000, Strong Mandate pushed his purse earnings to $230,400.
“These guys, Bill Mack and Bob Baker, have been with me 25 years,” Lukas said. “We’ve gone through a lot. We only buy two or three a year; most years two; this year we got three. They’ve stayed with us. We [had] some nice horses, but I don’t know if we’ve [had] one this good.”