November 29, 2021

Champagne draws deep field of six; Maxfield dons blinkers for Woodward tilt

Gunite wins the 2021 Hopeful S. at Saratoga
Gunite wins the 2021 Hopeful S. at Saratoga (Photo by Coglianese Photos/Susie Raisher)

Champagne S. (G1) — Race 8 (4:40 p.m. ET)

The winner of Saturday’s $500,000 Champagne S. (G1) at Belmont Park not only will earn an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), but could run himself into the roll of favorite for that Nov. 5 fixture at Del Mar.

Although only six will line up for the one-mile Champagne, it’s a powerhouse field. Wit was a dynamite winner of his first two starts over the summer by eight lengths apiece, including the Sanford (G2), but his slow-starting tendencies cost him dearly last time in the Hopeful (G1) over a track that appeared to benefit speed. He finished a distant second that day to the speedy Gunite over a drying-out strip rated good.

“We’re just hoping for a cleaner start,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of Wit. “We tried to break well in his last race, he just grabbed himself a little bit and had to play catch up from there. The track wasn’t kind to closers as well.”

Pletcher also saddles My Prankster, an Into Mischief colt who won on debut by 10 lengths at Saratoga, and Command Performance, a rallying second in his debut in the mud.

Jack Christopher, one of the most anticipated debuters during the Saratoga meet, lived up to the pre-race hype with a scorching 8 3/4-length victory over next-out graduate Hoist the Gold going six furlongs. By Munnings and out of a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Street Boss, Jack Christopher is trained by Chad Brown.

“The way he’s training I don’t think he’ll have any difficulty getting the mile,” Brown said.

In addition to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile implications, the Champagne top four will earn qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 toward the 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1).

Woodward S. (G1) — Race 10 (5:45 p.m. ET)

Maxfield will be out to notch his first Grade 1 win of the season in the $500,000 Woodward S. (G1), the 1 1/8-mile fixture which returns to its ancestral home of Belmont after being contested for more than a decade at Saratoga.

A Godolphin homebred, Maxfield has enjoyed a stellar campaign to date winning three of five starts. Although an easy winner of the Stephen Foster (G2) and Alysheba (G2) during the spring, he’s fallen short in his two-top level attempts this term, the most recent being a second to the loose-on-the-lead Knicks Go in the Whitney (G1).

“He should love the sweeping turns here,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “He seems to run his turns very well, which is probably the strongest part of his races. A big horse like him with a big stride on him, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be to his advantage more than anything.”

Maxfield races with blinkers for the first time in the Woodward.

Art Collector is undefeated in two starts since joining the Bill Mott barn, most recently prevailing in the three-turn Charles Town Classic (G2) over nine furlongs. Grade 1 veteran Code of Honor recently got back into action following a seven-month absence, winning the Philip H. Iselin (G3) at Monmouth by more than two lengths.

“I think two turns is probably better, but the mile and an eighth is fine,” said trainer Shug McGaughey of Code of Honor, who owns a record of 6-3-2-1 at Belmont. “I think the way he’s training right now, he’s sharp and he’ll be laying in the right spot to wait and make a move.”

Dr Post has blown hot and cold this season, with victories in the Westchester (G3) and Monmouth Cup (G3) being the highlights. Grade 3 winner Forza Di Oro looks to bounce back from a disappointing third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga, in which he started as the 11-10 favorite.

Miss Grillo S. (G2) — Race 4 (2:33 p.m. ET)

Chad Brown’s win streak of four in the $200,000 Miss Grillo S. (G2) was snapped last year, but McKulick and Kinchen will give the conditioner a strong chance to notch a ninth win in the 1 1/16-mile grass test for juvenile fillies since 2008.

While both are making their respective second starts, McKulick has the advantage of having won on debut by 1 1/2 lengths over stablemate and next-out graduate Consumer Spending. Kinchen, meanwhile, enters off a troubled second to returning rival Hail To.

“I felt if she could have got out to the clear, she probably would have won. The break dictated to settle — which most of my horses will do — and she kicked on nicely,” said Brown regarding Kinchen.

“She just found herself with some traffic inside and she probably would have been a little braver if we could have got her clear, but that happens in maiden races. We’ll turn the page and hopefully she gets a better trip in this.”

Also in field of six are Philly Eagles, who captured her seven-furlong debut in late June at Doncaster and is now trained by Mark Casse, and the multiple stakes-placed Sail By.

Belmont Turf Sprint (G3) — Race 9 (5:14 p.m. ET)

Christophe Clement, who saddled Pure Sensation and Disco Partner to win the first three editions of the $200,000 Belmont Turf Sprint (G3), will rely on Therapist to win a fourth in Saturday’s six-furlong dash.

In a field that lacks a standout on paper, the betting figures to be spread on several others. Jaipur (G1) runner-up Chewing Gum looks to bounce back from a couple lackluster efforts at Saratoga and Kentucky Downs, while Pulsate, Backtohisroots, Piedi Bianchi, and Arrest Me Red all exit strong efforts at Saratoga. Belgrano steps up in class of a two-length win in the Rainbow Heir S. at Monmouth Park.