by Teresa Genaro
Four years ago, Ron Lombardi’s Mr. Amore Stables dead-heated for second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita. This year, he hopes to return to California and do that performance one better after Firenze Fire won Saturday’s Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. The contest is a “Win & You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar on November 4.
“I’m awesome,” said Lombardi, standing in the winner’s circle. “How could I be any better?”
Firenze Fire and Irad Ortiz Jr. broke alertly from the 12-hole, but Ortiz immediately dropped way, way back, at least a dozen lengths from the front in 10th place. As 3-1 favorite Alveenu Malcainu set a quick early pace, Ortiz and Firenze Fire loped along in no hurry to make up any ground.
Ortiz kept the son of Poseidon’s Warrior off the rail with clear running room and, as they easily picked off horses rounding the final turn, went five-wide to make his move into the stretch. They ran down their final two rivals to win by a half-length.
The win is Firenze Fire’s third in four career starts, and second in a graded stakes race. He won the Sanford (G3) on opening weekend at Saratoga.
“He always breaks good,” said Ortiz, “but we’ve been working with him to drop in, take some kickback, get some dirt, and finish.”
“I was really surprised on the turn,” trainer Jason Servis said. “Irad was loaded.”
Lombardi claimed the bay colt’s dam, My Every Wish, for $16,000 from her second start in April 2012. Servis had advised him against the claim, and the mare never raced again.
“Everyone told me, ‘Don’t claim her,’” Lombardi said. “I always go again the odds. I’m a risktaker.”
“Here we are,” Servis said. “It’s a good story.”
After a fourth-place finish in the September 4 Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, Lombardi and Servis contemplated keeping Firenze Fire at short distances and were considering the October 14 Futurity (G3) going six furlongs at Belmont.
“I said, ‘Let’s give him another shot,’” Lombardi remarked. “Here we are.”
The win is Lombardi’s first in a Grade 1 race and Firenze Fire’s first at a mile.
Interviewed separately after the race, both owner and trainer were largely on the same page about the colt’s next race, even anticipating each other’s reactions.
“I’m a little more aggressive than Jason,” Lombardi said. “I’ll convince Jason to go the Breeders’ Cup.”
Servis, in turn, remarked about heading west, “I have to think about it. It’d be hard to get Ron not to go.”