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ELMONT, NY – Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher holds a heavy hand with half of the field entered from his barn as he aims for his record seventh title in Saturday’s $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.
The Champagne is a one-turn dirt mile event restricted to 2-year-olds that serves as the eighth event on an 11-race card with a local post time of 4:40 PM. The race is also a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, awarding an automatic berth in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar this November.
Additionally, the Champagne is part of the Road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby prep race season that awards 10 points to the winner, 4 for second, 2 for third, and 1 for fourth.
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Here’s a look at the full field for the Champagne:
1. Wit 2/1 – He began his career winning 2 straight including the 6-furlong (Sanford Stakes [G3]) by 14 total lengths despite breaking poorly both times. His bad gate habits caught up to him in the Hopeful Stakes (G1), when the Pletcher trainee again spotted the field several lengths and could only finish second. He clearly has talent, but at this stage, he can’t be too heavily trusted at a short price.
“He’s got learning experience in all 3 of his races,” Pletcher said. “He’s gotten well-accustomed to getting some dirt in his face and dealing with some traffic. We’re just hoping for a cleaner start. 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.”
2. My Prankster 5/2 – Pletcher’s second entry was a dominating 10-length winner going 6 1/2 furlongs on debut at Saratoga, earning a 92 Beyer Speed Figure that ties for highest in the field; the fourth-place finisher won next out with an 82 Beyer. This son of elite sire Into Mischief is out of a dam who was a multiple Group winner in Puerto Rico and who later won a pair of American dirt sprint stakes.
“He’s not an overzealous work horse,” Pletcher said of a horse who worked 4 furlongs in 47 seconds flat from the gate on August 8. “If you hadn’t seen that gate work, you might not have expected the debut he had, but he’s a pretty laid-back colt. It’s always a big stretch to go from a one start maiden to a Grade 1 stake, but we’ve had some success doing that.”
3. Jack Christopher 9/5 – Like the rival to his inside, he was an impressive debut winner at Saratoga when he captured a 6-furlong sprint by 8 3/4 lengths and earned a 92 Beyer; the runner-up won next out (via DQ) with a 78 Beyer. His older half-sister broke her maiden in a similar one-turn dirt mile setup at Gulfstream Park, and jockey Jose Ortiz won this race with Complexity for trainer Chad Brown in 2018.
“Just off 1 race, he’s going to have to take another step forward, but he was so brilliant with his debut,” Brown said. “We’ve had horses have success here before doing that – Complexity comes to mind. Off just 1 race, he ran very well and won.”
Gunite Dominates Hopeful, Gives Sire Gun Runner Weekend Sweep
4. Kavod 50/1 – He returns to dirt and adds blinkers after a 1-start experiment without the hood and on turf saw him finish fifth, beaten 20 3/4 lengths in the With Anticipation Stakes (G3). That was his second straight fifth-place finish after he was 15 1/4 lengths behind the winner in the Sanford, and he’ll need to take a major step forward from his career-best Beyer (62) if he wants to contend here.
5. Gunite 4/1 – He was a dominating 5 3/4-length winner of the Hopeful after getting caught in a pace duel in the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) and finishing second. He’ll need to step up his game in order to hang with the early speed horses drawn to his inside, though while he seems to do his best running up front, he showed in his second career start that he could pass and rally if needed.
“He’ll be the horse in the field with the most experience, so hopefully that does him well,” said owner/breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds’ racing and bloodstock advisor David Fiske. “Typically, horses that come out of (the El Primero Training Center) tend to break well from the gate. Facing all that adversity, that’s something some of the other ones haven’t faced. Hopefully, he’s learned something from all of it.”
6. Commandperformance 10/1 – Pletcher’s third entry finished second on debut after breaking from the rail in the slop – a tough place for any new horse – and getting immediately bumped by multiple horses, which forced him to the rear. He rallied impressively for second in the stretch of the 6-furlong sprint; that said, he’s facing proven winners while running longer. At least he can’t get pushed into the rail this time.
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