CHAMPAGNE PROBLEMS earned her first stakes score on Sunday when taking command of the $100,000 Groupie Doll Stakes (G3) in the Ellis Park stretch and drawing off under jockey Calvin Borel to record a 3 1/4-length victory.
The Ghostzapper four-year-old was bumped at the start and found herself running near the rear of the 10-distaffer field for the opening half-mile. Meanwhile, 9-5 favorite Sense of Bravery was leading the way up front through splits of :23.76, :46.96, 1:11.37 and 1:24.01. The pacesetter appeared a winner in the lane but Champagne Problems was just gearing up.
After saving ground on the backstretch, Champagne Problems angled out six wide in the stretch, ran down Sense of Bravery and pulled off to stop the clock in 1:36.74 for a mile over the fast main track. Sent off the 4-1 third choice, the Ian Wilkes trainee returned $10 for the win.
Sense of Bravery held second by a half-length over Pinch Hit, and it was another 5 1/4 lengths back to Pacific Pink in fourth. Completing the order of finish were Mines and Magic, Torrent, Honey Bunny, Dorodansa, Misleading Lady and Jenda’s Agenda.
Campaigned by Brad Stephen’s Six Column Stables LLC, Randy Bloch, John Seiler, Fred Merritt and David Hall, Champagne Problems was trying stakes rivals for only the fourth time in her career. Her previous best finish against black-type competition came when she ran a neck second in last September’s Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs. The dark bay filly improved her career mark Sunday to read 18-5-3-4 and has accumulated $261,084 in lifetime earnings.
Wilkes indicated Champagne Problems could compete in a stakes during Churchill Downs’ September meet before possibly heading to Keeneland and then back to Churchill for the fall meet.
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC, Champagne Problems is the first registered stakes winner out of the unraced A.P. Indy mare Coral Sun. That mare is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire and sire Southern Image. Champagne Problems’ fourth dam, Jolie Jolie, foaled multiple Grade 1-scoring millionaire and sire Jolie’s Halo.
GROUPIE DOLL QUOTES
Ian Wilkes, trainer Champagne Problems, winner
“She used to be really nervous, tough to saddle, and she really has gotten into a nice niche lately. We’ve eyed this Groupie Doll for a while because of the Grade 3 status with it. It really helps enhance her value. We’ve been planning for this about three or four races back. I told (jockey) Calvin (Borel), ‘Everything we do is for the Groupie Doll.’ Sometimes a plan comes off.
“I could have run her back at Indiana Grand (in the Mari Hulman George Stakes) with Pinch Hit, but then I’d be wheeling her back. She’s not a big, robust filly. She’s a little lighter filly, but she’s developing. I just felt that in her best interest was that once she won the allowance race and she beat Pinch Hit that I’d come back and run her straight into the Groupie Doll. It was six or seven weeks, so that was fine.”
On teaming with Calvin Borel
“What Calvin has done to start my career, it’s priceless. Calvin is one of the instrumental riders, back when I was working for Carl (Nafzger). Calvin was a huge part of everything in developing horses. Calvin can still ride. Get him on the right stock and he’s as good as anyone out there.
“We’ll evaluate where we’re at at the end of the year with her: If she goes to be broodmare or if she races on.”
Calvin Borel, jockey Champagne Problems, winner
“The filly always had talent. I’ve got to give credit to Ian for getting her ready for this race. We’ve been pointing her for this the last couple of races, and she’s just getting better and better… We had to spend a lot of time with her, get her head right, do a lot of work with her.
“Actually today she wasn’t really traveling that good down the backside. She’ll run on the inside of horses, but she’s not comfortable. But I was still picking up horses and I was just waiting for the time to come to get out and let her run and do her thing. I just let her run about the last eighth-mile today. She’s improving a lot.
“She was really, really nervous. We just took our time, teaching her how to take back and relax and turn off. Because we always thought she had talent from Day One. She’s starting to put it together right now. She did it with real authority, and they weren’t going that fast. It was just a matter of me finding a spot to go. Like I say, she’ll run inside of horses. But when I can ease out, she’s a little bit better horse.”
Randy Bloch, co-owner Champagne Problems, winner
“It’s pretty special to win a graded stakes race. With these kinds of trainers in here, the competition, the quality of horses, it’s just pretty special. So we’re pretty excited and elated about it. Like Calvin said, she’s getting better and better along the way. We were all watching together and we weren’t sure she was going to get there. But Calvin got her outside and she just took off. Credit to Ian for getting her ready, but she keeps improving. I don’t know where we go from here. But we love being in this position.”
Fernando De La Cruz, jockey Sense of Bravery, second
“She got tired a little bit. She just took me right to the lead, but she just got tired. She’s only a three-year-old. She’s still learning.”
Shaun Bridgmohan, jockey Pinch Hit, third
“She tries. She gave it her all. I thought down the lane she would kick a little harder for me, but she was up on the pace, too. I just rode her accordingly. From the outside post, I knew I had to get position with her, so I let her run to get some kind of position before I took a hold of her. When I saw what was going on, I kind of got a hold of her hoping she’d relax a little bit and punch home.”
One race before the Groupie Doll, trainer Larry Jones sent out BELIEVE IN ROYALTY to take the $75,000 Ellis Park Derby with jockey Gabriel Saez aboard.
The gray son of Tapit overcame a slow, hoppy start to rally from last and score by a half-length on the wire for Robert C. Baker, William Mack and breeder Brereton C. Jones.
Believe in Royalty ran a mile on the fast main track in 1:37.96 and returned $17.40 as the 7-1 third choice. He improved his career record to 9-3-0-2, $110,635.