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Timberlake won the 2023 Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont at the Big A, a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Into Mischief colt rebounded from his last-out runner-up Hopeful Stakes (G1) effort.
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Siena Farm and WinStar Farm’s Timberlake established his credentials as a major player in the juvenile division with a decisive 4 1/4-length score in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne, at Belmont at the Big A.
Trained by Brad Cox and piloted by Florent Geroux, the emphatic victory in the one-turn mile contested over a sloppy and sealed main track provided the Into Mischief colt with a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 3 at Santa Anita Park. In addition, Timberlake picked up the maximum points allotment in the 10-5-3-2-1 Kentucky Derby prep race.
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Timberlake, who was cross-entered in today’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, landed instead in the Champagne and provided a breakout performance while removing blinkers following a troubled runner-up effort when eager while racing in tight behind rivals in the Grade 1 Hopeful last out on September 4 at Saratoga Race Course.
“We talked about it and thought this was a good spot. The Champagne is a great race, a stallion making race. We’re excited to win it, it’s the first time we’ve ever won it,” said Elliott Walden, CEO of WinStar Farm. “Brad did a great job taking the blinkers off. I think that helped settle him a little bit. We saw what happened last time and you learn from each race. He learns from each race and he was just great-minded today. He was very rank last time when he didn’t break well and was up behind heels. Brad worked him twice without blinkers and made the decision not to have them today and it all worked out well.”
The complexion of the race changed when 1-2 mutuel favorite Fierceness, a dazzling front-running maiden winner in August at Saratoga, bobbled at the start. Instead, it was second-out Spa maiden winner General Partner showing the way through splits of 22.49 seconds and 45.44 with Sweet Soddy J to his outside and Timberlake, who was off a beat slow, advancing up the rail into third position to the inside of Gold Sweep.
General Partner led the field through the turn with Fierceness making an outside move as Timberlake advanced up the rail and tipped to the outside after three-quarters in 1:10.41 to take aim at the leader. General Partner dug in gamely under Manny Franco, but Timberlake’s momentum was too much to handle as the talented bay was ridden to the wire in a final time of 1:35.90.
General Partner completed the exacta by 6 1/4-lengths over a late-closing Dancing Groom with Gold Sweep, Air Cav, El Grande O, Fierceness and Sweet Soddy J rounding out the order of finish.
Geroux said Timberlake responded well following a moderate start.
“He’s not the quickest horse out of the gate, but he always puts himself in a good position. We knew what we had,” Geroux said. “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.”
Timberlake made his first two starts in maiden special weight sprints at Ellis Park, breaking a step slow in his June 15 debut traveling 5 1/2-furlongs and landing a distant sixth in a race won by next-out Grade 2 Herb Moelis Memorial Saratoga Special-winner Rhyme Schemes. He followed in July with a 9 1/4-length romp in a seven-furlong tilt, traveling gate-to-wire to best eventual Grade 3 Iroquois-winner West Saratoga before finishing second last out in the Grade 1 Hopeful when 1 1/2-lengths back of upset winner Nutella Fella, who missed this event with a bruised foot.
Cox said he was pleased with how Timberlake responded without blinkers.
“We used blinkers early on just to keep him focused and we felt like he needed them early,” Cox said. “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.”
Klaravich Stables’ General Partner, trained by Chad Brown, entered from a sharp maiden score under Franco on September 2 at the Spa, drawing off to a four-length score that registered a 92 Beyer Speed Figure.
“He ran great,” said Franco. “He did what he knows to do and went to the lead and was second best today and ran a really good race. He’s going to keep improving, which I like.”
Cox said Timberlake will return to Kentucky to assess a potential start in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Kentucky Derby aspirations to be determined at a later date.
“You obviously turn your attention to the Breeders’ Cup as it comes up first,” Cox said. “We’ll get him back to Kentucky and see how he comes out of it and let him tell us if we take a march towards Santa Anita. We’ll enjoy this victory and go from there.”
Bred in Kentucky by St. Elias Stables, Timberlake, out of the Irish-bred Lookin At Lucky mare Pin Up, banked $275,000 in victory while improving his record to 4-2-1-0. He returned $11.80 for a $2 win bet.
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