Timberlake and Just F Y I stepped up with sharp performances over Aqueduct’s sloppy track Saturday, earning their initial stakes wins in the $500,000 Champagne (G1) and $400,000 Frizette (G1). Both can now make a case for divisional championship honors, guaranteeing themselves fees-paid berths to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 3 by taking the Challenge series events.
The Champagne and Frizette also awarded points on a 10-5-3-2-1 scale to the top five finishers as qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Oaks (G1) next spring.
Brad Cox removed blinkers after a rough trip resulted in a second as the favorite in the Hopeful (G1), and Timberlake responded with an impressive win in the Champagne. The bay two-year-old rallied boldly to overtake General Partner in the stretch and powered clear late to a 4 1/4-length score.
Florent Geroux was in to ride the up-and-coming son of Into Mischief for owners Sienna Farm and WinStar Farm, and Timberlake completed a mile in a solid 1:35.90.
“He ran good, I was very proud of him,” Cox said. “He got a good, clean trip today. Florent did a great job. He got away well. We had a bit of a rough trip in the Hopeful. I thought with a little bit of a cleaner run he maybe would have got to the wire first, but that’s the way it goes. I’m very proud of the effort today. It was a huge win.”
Cox was asked if blinkers off helped relax Timberlake.
“Totally, he’s a young horse,” Cox said. “We used blinkers early on just to keep him focused and we felt like he needed them early. He trained very well leading up to the Hopeful and looking back it would have been great to take them off, but he was also coming off a victory, too. He’s a young horse continuing to learn and I think he put it all together today.”
Off as the 4.90- 1 third choice, Timberlake stalked a couple of lengths back as General Partner sped forward to set the pace in :22.49 and :45.44 on a short lead. General Partner accelerated clear into upper stretch, but Timberlake was starting to find his best stride while straightening for home. Both runners raced well out from the rail, and Timberlake offered a tremendous late kick in the final furlong to prove best stylishly.
Timberlake opted for the Champagne after being cross-entered to Saturday’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland.
“They did (pick the right race),” Geroux said. “Tt was just the best spot today with the one-turn mile and a good setup in front of him. I think it set him up perfect for the Breeders’ Cup and hopefully the horse comes back healthy and we can move forward. He’s not the quickest horse out of the gate, but he always puts himself in a good position. We knew what we had. Last time he was the favorite in the Hopeful and had a little bit of trouble and was very rank. Today, we took the blinkers off and he was way more relaxed and (I’m) hoping he is going to improve again.”
The top three were strung out under the wire. General Partner, the 9-2 second choice, was 6 1/4 lengths clear of late-running Dancing Groom in third at 37-1. It was nearly three more lengths to fourth-placer Gold Sweep, who was followed by Air Cav and El Grande O. Fierceness, an odds-on favorite following an 11-length debut win over a muddy track, never fired from off the pace and wound up seventh. Sweet Soddy trailed.
Bred in Kentucky by St. Elias Stables, Timberlake sold for $350,000 as a yearling at the 2022 Keeneland September sale. He’s the first stakes winner from the stakes-placed Pin Up, a daughter of Lookin at Lucky, and Timberlake’s second maternal dam is by stamina influencer Sadler’s Wells.
“He’s accomplished a lot in a short period of time,” WinStar’s Elliott Walden said. “I think (two turns) will be good, but we’ll see. He’s a big strong horse with a beautiful pedigree, a two-turn type pf pedigree.”
After stalking the pace in third, George Krikorian’s homebred Just F Y I seized command leaving the far turn and drew off to a 3 3/4-length decision in the Frizette. The Bill Mott-trained daughter of Justify improved to 2-for-2, improving upon a rallying head win in a six-furlong maiden at Saratoga in late August, and Junior Alvarado guided the bay through a mile in 1:37.59.
The same connections notched their second consecutive Grade 1 victory on the program, taking the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic with War Like Goddess one race earlier.
“It’s very special,” Mott said. “(Mr. Krikorian) has been a very good client and he sends me some horses that he thinks are going to be OK. I have a small group of horses for him, but they are all quite nice.”
Just F Y I left the starting gate as the 4.80-1 third choice among six rivals. She raced a couple of lengths back as Irish Maxima established opening splits in :23.63 and :47.69 while being chased by even-money favorite Emery, and Alvardo kept his mount well off the rail as Just F Y I advanced into contention rounding the far turn.
“I was very happy with what I had under me the whole way around,” Alvarado said. “I was just hoping by the time I let her go, she wasn’t going to fool me. Right when I asked her, she started picking it up. She had that beautiful long stride. Right when she switched leads, I knew she would be OK turning for home. She finished up nice and strong.”
Central Avenue, who was exiting a debut maiden win at Colonial Downs for Michael Stidham, closed from last to be a non-threatening second at 18-1. Life Talk, who offered a brief bid on the far turn but lacked the necessary stretch kick, wound up another half-length back in third at 9-5. Next came Emery, Irish Maxima, and Princess Indy.
Longer distances may work to Just F Y I’s favor.
“I rode her at Saratoga and she ran a pretty good race,” Alvarado said. “We always knew that she would be a filly that would appreciate stretching out.”
Just F Y I is the first stakes winner from the stakes-placed Street Cry mare Star Act, who hails from multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Starrer. “It’s very special. I couldn’t be more pleased. I’m ecstatic,” Krikorian said. “She (Just F Y I) had only run once before. Last time, she got to the lead right at the wire in that race. Going a longer distance, we were hopeful that distance was going to be helpful to her, which it turned out to be.”