Twelve juveniles hoping for an all-fees paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) on November 4 at Del Mar will line up Saturday in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.
The Champagne is not only a “Win & You’re In” Challenge contest, sending the winner to the World Championships, but is also part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season schedule. It offers up 10-4-2-1 points to the respective top four finishers toward a starting berth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby (G1).
Only three of the 12 entrants have prior stakes experience – Kowboy Karma, Aveenu Malcainu and Firenze Fire.
Kowboy Karma earned his black-type after taking his maiden debut by 12 lengths on July 19 at Delaware Park. The Larry Jones pupil stayed at that track for a 2 1/2-length score in the Strike Your Colors Stakes, then shipped to Monmouth Park for a runner-up effort as the 1-2 favorite in the Sapling Stakes on September 2.
Aveenu Malcainu puts his perfect two-for-two mark on the line in this contest for trainer Jeremiah Englehart. The Into Mischief colt broke his maiden by three parts of a length at Saratoga on July 28 and added the Funny Cide Stakes to his resume a month later by 2 1/2 lengths. Both of those starts were restricted to New York-breds, and the Funny Cide came after an eventful morning where Aveenu Malcainu hit his head and scratched his nose in the stall.
“We originally were looking at the Hopeful (G1) in Saratoga, but we felt the state-bred stakes would give us extra preparation time for the Champagne,” Englehart said. “We felt all along he can (handle) open company.
“He’s a big horse, so I’m hoping the Belmont track will play to his favor,” the conditioner added. “I look at the numbers and it’s comparable to a lot of others running throughout the country. We felt all along that he could do it, we’ll just see if he makes that step up in this start.”
Firenze Fire will break from the far outside 12 post for trainer Jason Servis. The Poseidon’s Warrior colt took his maiden debut at Monmouth Park on June 18 by 3 1/2 lengths, then traveled to Saratoga for a one-length triumph in the Sanford Stakes (G3) on July 22. Firenze Fire showed up in the seven-furlong Hopeful over a good track and ran a one-paced fourth.
Alex Cintron rides Kowboy Karma, Luis Saez has piloting duties on Aveenu Malcainu and Irad Ortiz Jr. will be holding Firenze Fire’s reins Saturday.
Enticed, Full of Run and Hazit enter the Champagne having broken their maidens at first asking last out. Enticed did so by 1 3/4 lengths for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on September 4 at Saratoga. Full of Run romped by 3 1/2 lengths at Monmouth Park on August 26 for Servis. Hazit wired an August 26 Saratoga maiden special weight for conditioner Todd Pletcher by a length.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do so far,” Pletcher said of Hazi. “He trained very well all summer and I thought he was very professional in his debut. We’ve been pointing for this since then. He’s breezed well so we’re optimistic that he’ll continue moving forward and handle the stretch-out to a mile.
“He’s a little bit of an unassuming colt. He just goes about his business. All summer, every time we breezed him, he seemed to take a step up. He breezed well from the gate and gave us the impression that he’d run well in his debut and he did and subsequently he’s come back and trained really well.”
Junior Alvarado returns to Enticed’s saddle here, Nik Juarez takes the mount on Full of Run and John Velazquez has the return call for Hazit.
Finishing second behind Hazi in that Saratoga maiden was Good Magic, who wheels back for trainer Chad Brown under Jose Ortiz.
“This horse is training really well,” Brown said. “He looks like he’s going to move forward off that number. Whether it’s good enough or not, I’m not sure.”
Blame It On Honey, Stronger and Honorable Treasure all broke their maidens in impressive fashion in their second outings. Blame It On Honey was fourth in his June 5 debut at Delaware Park but returned 21 days later to post a 4 1/4-length score at Parx Racing for trainer Anthony Farrior. Stronger also filled the fourth spot in his first outing for conditioner Eric Guillot at Gulfstream Park, but showed up a month later on August 27 at that same track to draw off by 6 1/2 lengths. Honorable Treasure was fifth while trying turf in his first start on July 22 at Saratoga, but prevailed by 6 1/4 lengths in an off-the-turf maiden at the Spa on August 19 for horseman Kiaran McLaughlin.
“He’s working pretty impressively at this point. I couldn’t get him any better, he’s doing great,” Guillot said of Stronger. “The reason I came here and not the Breeders’ Futurity ([G1] at Keeneland on Saturday) in Kentucky is that the horses in that race have a little more experience at two turns.
“Stronger really wants to go two turns, but a lot of the bigger number horses are coming off sprints at Saratoga and have to prove they can get the one-turn mile. It could turn into a battle up front and the dragon-slayer will have to take the sword out and behead them at the wire.”
Jevian Toledo takes back the mount on Blame It On Honey, Manuel Franco rides Stronger for the first time and Dylan Davis will be in Honorable Treasure’s saddle for the initial time in the Champagne.
Guillot also saddles maiden Master Manipulator in this spot off a close second going a mile at Gulfstream on September 17 in his second race.
“He should have won by five if you look back at it, easily,” Guillot said of the chestnut colt’s last race. “If you want to see something intriguing, go back and watch the trip, because it was brutal. It’s worth watching. It’ll give you an idea why I came with a maiden, because he shouldn’t be a maiden.”
The Simon Callaghan-trained maiden Bahamian rounds out the field following a runner-up effort at Del Mar on September 2.