Ralis, who confirmed the dominance of West Coast-based two-year-olds with a runaway victory in last month’s Hopeful (G1), will try and put the New York-based contingent in their place again Saturday when he heads a field of nine in the $500,000 Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park over a mile.
Despite losing a California-bred stakes in his previous start, Ralis had no trouble asserting his superiority in the latter stages of the Hopeful, taking over from the pace-setting Magna Light approaching the eighth pole and opening up to win by 5 3/4 lengths for trainer Doug O’Neill, who also conditions Southern California’s top juvenile Nyquist.
Magna Light, controversially disqualified from first to third in the Sanford (G3) prior to the Hopeful, will try again to stretch his speed over a longer distance. However, the seven-furlong Hopeful somewhat exposed his limitations in that respect, and he could see early pressure from the likes of Ready Dancer.
As is normally the case in this era, the Champagne field is generally composed of horses with more stakes potential than stakes experience. Five are coming off maiden wins, including the Barclay Tagg-trained Tale of S’avall, who won at first asking by two lengths on the Travers undercard at Saratoga. Also coming off Spa graduations are the aforementioned Ready Dancer, Greenpointcrusader, and Rafting. The Phipps-owned Sail Ahoy exits a narrow, course-and-distance maiden win on September 12.
Aside from Ralis, the only other stakes winner in the lineup is Sunny Ridge, who took the $116,000 Sapling at Monmouth last time. However, his 20-1 morning line price reflects a maiden victory for a $40,000 tag and a seventh-place effort in the Sanford. The field is completed by second-time starter Portfolio Manager, runner-up in his Saratoga debut August 22.
The $400,000 Frizette (G1), for two-year-old fillies over a mile, serves as a virtual first-level allowance for much of the field. O’Neill has shipped Where’s the D following a 34-1 upset score at Del Mar, while the Christophe Clement-trained Width and Steve Asmussen-trained Nickname exit maiden wins at Saratoga. Godolphin homebred Desert Tune, a course-and-distance graduate September 11, is another that can take another step forward.
She’s All Ready, who comfortably defeated New York-breds twice at Saratoga, in a maiden and in the $200,000 Seeking Again, stretches out from 6 1/2 furlongs and will look to wire her opposition again. Nemoralia, an English invader from Jeremy Noseda, has won her last two starts, once on the all-weather and most recently on the turf during the St Leger Festival at Doncaster. Maiden claiming graduate Anna Rae needs substantial improvement after a well-beaten fourth-place effort in the Spinaway (G1).
(Ralis photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)