Nutella Fella, dismissed at 54-1 on the tote board, powered by favored Timberlake late to take the $300,000 Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes Sept. 4 at Saratoga Race Course. Ridden by Junior Alvarado, Nutella Fella stopped the timer in 1:24.41 for seven furlongs on a fast main track. He returned $111 for a $2 win ticket.
Trainer Gary Contessa started the 155th Saratoga Race Course season by winning the initial stakes of the meet with Becky's Joker, 2-year-old filly who was making her career debut in Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes. In the last stakes of the 40-day meet, Contessa somehow found a way to top that.
On the final day of a tumultuous meet, Contessa pulled off a 54-1 stunner as Bell Gable Stable's Nutella Fella, who broke last but surged to the front in the final yards to post a 1 ½-length victory 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, Contessa said.' 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."
The closing-day, Sept. 4 win came in the $12,000 yearling's first start for Contessa after the colt debuted with a 2 1/4-length victory for trainer Richard Sillaman at Delaware Park.
"The New York gate grew 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 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 Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes Oct. 7 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 Grade 3 Sanford Stakes 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 of 10 after a blistering :44.89 half-mile. He moved widest and quickest in the stretch to motor past the field, giving 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 Timberlake a close up fourth after breaking next-to-last. Despite racing in tight quarters, Timberlake 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, who was tipped widest in the stretch and grabbed the lead with 70 yards to go.
Final time for the seven furlongs was 1:24.41.
Contessa said next stop for Nutella Fella would be the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes Oct. 7 at Aqueduct, with the Nov. 3 FanDuel Breeders' Cup Juvenile presented by TAA a possibility if all goes well.
"Champagne to Breeders' Cup, unless he throws us a curve," Contessa said. "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 Pirate, trained by Todd Pletcher, who went off at 10-1 from the outside post.