Horse Racing

Beat a promising champagne field

By J. Keeler Johnson (“Keelerman”) Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The $500,000 Champagne S. (G1) in Belmont at Big A is a fascinating race from a historical perspective.

The one-mile event has long ranked among the nation’s most prestigious awards for minors, and over the years it has produced 23 Kentucky Derby winners. The three crown champions Count Fleet, Omaha, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and confirmed are all vying for Champagne, as well as the Spectacular Grand Bid.

In the years since Spectacular Bid completed the Champagne / Kentucky Derby double in 1978-1979, only two horses — the Sea Hero (1992-93) and the Super Saver (2009-10) — have used Champagne as a base. springboard to Derby glory, and only Sea Hero won both races. Champagne still makes regular Derby starts (and provides Derby qualifying scores on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis for the top five finishers), but the Derby champions more likely to be found elsewhere.

But Derby aside, Champagne is a great source of high-end racehorses. Winners from 2010 include champions Uncle Mo, Shanghai Bobby, and Jackie’s Warrior plus winners at Union Rags and Tiz the Law. Champagne champion athletes defeated in the same time frame include Good Magic and Honor Code champions, multiple Tier 1 Alpha and Casa Creed winners, Breeders’ Goldencents’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) hero ‘ and runner-up Preakness S. (G1) Ride On Curlin and Midnight Bourbon.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Saturday’s Champagne renewal is well worth a look. The race has already attracted half a dozen entries, and some have the potential to grow into graded stake stars.

At first glance, it’s tempting to take sides # 6 Gulfport. Uncle Mo’s son made headlines throughout the spring and early summer at Churchill Downs, dominating his debut to seven lengths before beating Bashford Manor S. by 12 1/4.

But things have not gone well for Gulfport in recent starts. He had to try to settle among opponents around the first leg of Saratoga Special S. (G2) and finished in second at 3 1/4 lengths. Gulfport was then fairly and fairly beaten in the Hopeful S. (G1) in Saratoga, faltering to finish in second place after three races after overtaking speed on a crane track. drop.

Gulfport clearly has talent, and hopeful starters will return and win Champagne — Shanghai Bobby (2012), Practical Joke (2016), Firenze Fire (2017) and Jackie’s Warrior (2020) ) have all done it. decade. But it’s worth noting that the Firenze Fire is the only Champagne winner in the past 13 years to fail.

Four of the Champagne 2022 contenders are in winning form. One of the most fulfilling is #1 Andiamo a Firenze, winner of the 5 1/2 length of the Funny Cide S. sprint 6 1/2 time in Saratoga last month. Andiamoa a Firenze drew 2v2 against hybrids in New York and drew 0v1 against unrestricted opponents, finishing third at Sanford S. (G3) in Saratoga…but he also won 2v 2 wet and trail 0 to 1 vs dry, so the rainy weather forecast for Saturday is definitely a positive for this promising child of Speightstown.

#2 Top Hiring also demonstrated winning streak over the stakes, lightning speed and unyielding tenacity to win the Ellis Park Juvenile S. with a header over the running Curly Jack, with the rest of the yard is 14 3/4 the rear length. If the name Curly Jack sounds familiar, it’s because he’s back to win the Iroquois S. (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, honoring the top Recruit form.

But the most interesting horse to be imported into Champagne might be #3 Verification. From a pedigree perspective, this $775,000 acquisition is considered a champ. Sire Justify won the Triple Crown 2018 and got off to a hot start in school, while the previous Diva Delite smash beat Midnight Bisou, a champion who won 13 grading shares (including five 1) during his long and decorated career.

Verified was bred to run long and improve as an adult, but he hit it early enough to win his debut on August 27 with six sprints at Saratoga. Intern Brad Cox led all the way to scoring 1 3/4 of the length, earning promising speed numbers of 85 (Beyer) and 97 (Brisnet). If Verification improves while stretching the distance (as his pedigree suggests he will), he could win Champagne at the hands of hot jockey Joel Rosario.


First: Verification
Monday: Andiamo a Firenze
Tuesday: Gulfport

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in Champagne Stakes?


Want to test your beating skills against readers of Unlocked Winners? Test Unlock the Winner contest page—There’s a new challenge every week! (Please note: older entries can be found here.)

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as “Keelerman”) is a writer, cinematographer, voice actor, amputee, and horse racing enthusiast. A huge fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager the greatest racehorse ever made in America, but considers the Zenyatta his all-time favorite.

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