July 14, 2024

Gulfport faces five in Champagne; Be Your Best tops Miss Grillo

Gulfport wins the 2022 Bashford Manor (Coady Photography)

After coming up short in a pair of outings at Saratoga over the summer, Gulfport will look to get back on the winning track in Saturday’s $500,000 Champagne S. (G1) at Aqueduct.

Not only will the one-mile test for two-year-olds offer the winner an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in early November, but 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying points are also up for grabs. All but one of the six Champagne entrants will earn points, which will be distributed on a basis of 10-4-3-2-1 to the respective top five.

Gulfport’s career started impressively at Churchill Downs, where he won his first two as an odds-on favorite by a collective margin of 19 lengths. However, he was second in the Saratoga Special (G2) while enduring some trouble in running, and last time was run down late by Forte in the Hopeful (G1).

Verifying and Champions Dream, both of whom won on debut at Saratoga, figure to attract some support. Verifying is a Brad Cox-trained son of Justify who earned a 97 Brisnet Speed rating when winning on the Travers Day undercard. Champions Dream, also a son of Justify, won over seven furlongs on Labor Day weekend for trainer Danny Gargan.

Blazing Sevens, another Saratoga graduate, was a distant third in the Hopeful, which was contested over a sloppy track. Top Recruit exits a head victory over subsequent Iroquois (G3) winner Curly Jack in the Ellis Park Juvenile, while New York-bred Andiamo a Firenze dominated state-bred foes twice and finished third in the Sanford (G3) in his other start.

This is the first running of the Champagne held at Aqueduct since 1984, when it was contested after the inaugural Breeders’ Cup and run over 1 1/8 miles. Aqueduct also hosted the traditional one-mile version six times from 1959 through 1967. Five of those six were later named champion juvenile colt, while the other was future Horse of the Year Roman Brother.

The other Breeders’ Cup Challenge series prep for juveniles on Saturday is the $200,000 Miss Grillo S. (G2), a 1 1/16-mile prep for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

Be Your Best, who comfortably won both outings at Saratoga, including the P.G. Johnson S., will face off again with Free Lock, a last-out maiden winner for Chad Brown, who has won the Miss Grillo eight times.

Trainer Jorge Abreu starts two of the six fillies in the field, including Alluring Angel, a nose second in the Untapable S. at Kentucky Downs last time. Pleasant Passage, a daughter of the recently deceased More Than Ready, was up in time to win on debut for Shug McGaughey in her Aug. 21 debut.