Fierceness and General Partner, both of whom earned 101 Brisnet Speed ratings for their maiden wins at Saratoga over the summer, will be the two-year-olds bettors are likely to focus on in Saturday’s $500,000 Champagne (G1) at Aqueduct.
In addition to being a Breeders’ Cup Challenge prep for the Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita next month, the Champagne also offers 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying points of 10-5-3-2-1 to the respective top five finishers in the one-mile test.
A Todd Pletcher-trained son of City of Light, Fierceness debuted on Aug. 25 and skipped through the mud to win by 11 lengths going six furlongs. Pletcher has the most Champagne wins of any trainer with six, though none since 2014.
“He’s got a great temperament. He’s always been that way,” Pletcher said. “He’s very unassuming and is always going about his business until we asked him to pick it up one day and it was like, ‘Wow, this horse can run.’ I don’t think slop is the reason he ran so well.”
General Partner, a debut fourth in July, graduated by four lengths second out on Sept. 2 going seven furlongs for trainer Chad Brown. The son of Speightstown looks to become Brown’s third consecutive Champagne winner, following Jack Christopher (2021) and Blazing Sevens (2022). Brown has won four of the past seven editions of the Champagne.
Hopeful (G1) runner-up Timberlake was cross-entered in the Champagne and Saturday’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. The Hopeful would normally be a solid piece of form, but this year’s renewal was won by outsider Nutella Fella in what was a slowly-run race over a drying out track.
Another potential contender among the field of eight is Dancing Groom, who rebounded off a dull first start to break his maiden by five lengths going a mile at Saratoga.
The filly counterpart to the Champagne, the $400,000 Frizette (G1), will award a berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and carries 2024 Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualifying points of 10-5-3-2-1 to the respective top five finishers.
The field of six has as its possible favorite Emery, who comfortably defeated four rivals at first asking by 5 3/4 lengths over a muddy Saratoga strip for trainer Brad Cox, earning a 94 Brisnet Speed rating. Two other Saratoga graduates, the Pletcher-trained Life Talk and the Bill Mott-trained Just F Y I, are also likely to be given a long look by bettors.
Shipping in for the Frizette is Irish Maxima, who beat overnight company at Parx and Pimlico in her fist two outings, and the Godolphin homebred Central Avenue, a first-out winner going seven furlongs at Colonial Downs.