by DICK POWELL
The Champagne Stakes (G1) will be run on Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park as the 8TH race around 4:13 PM ET. It has been run 145 times and some of the greatest colts in American racing history have won it.
Run at one mile on the dirt around one turn at Belmont, it used to be the deciding race for the two-year-old male divisional championship. But, that was before the Breeders’ Cup came along in 1984.
The Champagne was so good that in the decade of the 1970s, we saw three straight immortal horses win when it was won in 1976 by SEATTLE SLEW (Bold Reasoning), in 1977 by AFFIRMED (Exclusive Native) and in 1978 by SPECTACULAR BID (Bold Bidder).
Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid crushed their opponents; Affirmed had to hold off ALYDAR (Raise a Native) to win his.
In 1971, RIVA RIDGE (First Landing) won and the following year, his stablemate SECRETARIAT (Bold Ruler) finished first and was disqualified and placed second
Saturday’s 146th renewal might not produce an all-time great like the ones above but it is a typical handicapping challenge for today’s horseplayer. It attracted a field of 12 with four of them having only one start, three of them have never won and only one has won a graded stakes race. A dozen juveniles but small samples and only two starters have three career starts. At least there are no first-time starters.
When going over the roster of starters, it looks like the word came out of the racing office that this year’s Champagne was not coming up too strong and they were very successful in hustling horses from Monmouth, Gulfstream Park, Parx Racing and Del Mar. There were no future all-time greats that scared away the competition and that is not to say that there might not be an all-time great in the field but they just haven’t showed it due to limited racing schedules.
A horse that intrigues me is the maiden GOOD MAGIC (Curlin) from Chad Brown. Brown’s second-time starters win at a strike rate of 26% so improvement can be expected and CURLIN (Smart Strike)’s offspring do better with distance.
Good Magic was the odds-on choice for his career debut on the Travers Day undercard and was an even second when he pressed the pace behind a front-end winner, HAZIT (War Front), that he faces again today.
The pace for Good Magic’s debut was a bit slow (82, 77) and he finished with a flourish (109). Travers Day was dominated by inside speed horses so pressing the pace three wide was not the place to be against a winner that gunned to the front from the rail. Instead of coming back in a maiden special weight race, Chad Brown enters him in the Champagne and a strong series of workouts reinforces that decision. I think he is the one to beat.
Kiaran McLaughlin sends out ENTICED (Medaglia d’Oro) off a win at Saratoga on Closing Day where he broke slow from post 1 on a muddy track that he appeared to dislike but still was strong enough through the lane to win going away at six furlongs. McLaughlin’s second-time starters improve a lot with a race under their belt and he has a big pedigree being sired by MEDAGLIA D’ORO (El Prado) out of a MINESHAFT (A.P. Indy) mare that won two Grade 1 stakes races on this main track (It’s Tricky). This is her first foal to race.
If I like Good Magic it’s hard for me to leave out Hazit. Yes, he was the speed horse on a speed track but he certainly looks like he can get a mile and who is to say that he won’t do it again. Todd Pletcher likes to get his dirt horses involved early and he has the perfect pilot in Johnny Velazquez back aboard. He draws post 11 for the long run down the backstretch so Johnny can watch the other speed horses to his inside and make his move when he wants. Or, he can put the pedal down out of the gate and dare them to catch him. Either way, Hazit is a very dangerous entrant.
Value might come from Monmouth Park shipper FULL OF RUN (Power Broker). He broke his maiden in fast time there going 5 1/2 furlongs and he did it from almost eight lengths behind over a racing surface that historically favors speed. Jason Servis wins 27% first time going long and he gets Nik Juarez who is a recent addition to the New York riding colony after switching agents to Ron Anderson.
Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne six times but I think this year’s running goes to Chad Brown, who won it last year for the first time with PRACTICAL JOKE (Into Mischief).