Updated on 09/16/2011 9:09AM

Sky Mesa takes Hopeful

Sky Mesa, with the Spa's leading rider, Edgar Prado, in the irons, pulls away to victory in Saturday's Hopeful. Zavata, 1-5, finished third.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Sky Mesa may have established himself as the early favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with an impressive 1 3/4-length victory over Pretty Wild in Saturday's $250,000 at Saratoga. Zavata, the 1-5 favorite, finished third after encountering trouble during the early stages of the Grade 1 event.

Sky Mesa, a son of Pulpit out of Caress, paid $9.80. He covered seven furlongs in 1:23.08 over a fast track under leading rider Edgar Prado. Sky Mesa is owned by John Oxley and trained by John Ward Jr.

Sky Mesa, who was an easy winner of his career debut earlier in the meet, broke alertly and then was taken in hand to track the early pace of Roaring Fever and Pretty Wild. He joined the leaders three-wide into the stretch, then gradually edged clear from Pretty Wild through the final sixteenth of a mile. Pretty Wild had gained a short advantage nearing the eighth pole but proved no match for the winner.

Zavata, who had easily won his last three starts, including the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, checked back to last after being squeezed between horses shortly after the break. He recovered to race within easy striking distance along the rail, lacked room behind the leaders around the turn, and was fanned wide entering the stretch. But after making a brief bid near midstretch, he weakened in the final furlong to finish 3 3/4 lengths behind Sky Mesa.

Sky Mesa's performance was all the more impressive considering he contracted a virus shortly after his first start, spiking a fever of 105 degrees according to Ward's wife, Donna.

"We missed four or five days of training, but Donna was a little soft on him in his next two works," said Ward, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby for Oxley with Monarchos. "Edgar did a heady job easing him back off the pace down the backside, then let him use his strength and stride down the stretch."

Ward said Sky Mesa would make his next start "in a two-turn race" possibly Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity on Oct. 5 .

"He had a little too much to overcome," said Zavata's trainer, Patrick Biancone. "It's just the hard luck of racing."

"The only real trouble we had was leaving the gate," said Zavata's rider, Jerry Bailey. "I tucked him in, angled out turning for home, had dead aim on the leaders, and he just lost ground from there."