Champagne Stakes

The $300,000 Champagne Stakes(G1) is this Saturday at Belmont Park, and Saratoga Special(G2) winner Union Rags has been installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite. The winner of this race will recieve a paid trip to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile(G1) at Churchill Downs on November 5th, making it an important step for anyone aspiring to win that day.

As usual, the Champagne features a number of impressively-bred colts in the field, and as has become the typical trend, many of them are coming straight off of maiden wins into stakes company. Here’s a look at each of the nine contendors.

Breaking from the inside will be No Spin, trained by Tim Ice. This son of Johannesburg was the odds-on favorite in his debut, but faded to split a field of six after being forwardly placed. Twelve Hundred, who won that race, would come back to win the Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile Stakes before running 8th in the Arlington-Washington Futurity(well behind No Spin). No Spin would improve in his second start, winning wire-to-wire at even money. He then finished 4th in the aforementioned Arlington-Washington Futurity.

No Spin’s dam, Dash for Money, won her debut at age two and though that was her only win, she did place 3rd of six in the Railbird Stakes at age three. He has two half-siblings, both multiple winners who banked over $100k each, although both took some time to break their maidens.

Speightscity will break from the two hole on Saturday, and after being restless in the gate prior to his debut, where he finished 4th on the turf, he returned to break his maiden by 11 1/2 lengths in a 1 1/8 mile Maiden Special Weight at Saratoga. It’s worth noting that in the chart for that maiden-breaking score, the comments state that he “drew off decisively, but somewhat deceptively, in the last eighth with the others now starting to stagger to the wire.”

The three horse in the Champagne is Takes the Gold for Rick Dutrow Jr. The Jay Emm Ess-owned son of Corinthian was favored in his debut, where he ran third at 6 1/2 furlongs after contesting the pace. He would stretch out to a mile in his next start and win under a hand ride after sitting just off the lead in the early stages.

Power World, for Neil Howard, is one of the runners in this race with prior stakes experience. He won at 14-1 on debut in a 4 1/2 furlong race at Churchill Downs. He closed from last, 11 1/4 lengths back, after being bumped and pinched back at the start. In that race, he defeated She Digs Me, who broke his maiden in his next start and then would win both the Tyro Stakes and Sapling Stakes(G3) at Monmouth. She Digs Me finished last as the favorite in the Nashua Stakes(G2) most recently. Power World went from his debut score to the Bashford Manor Stakes(G3), where he finished second to Exfactor, and then he finished second to highly touted Overdriven in the Sanford Stakes(G2). After that, though, he failed to rally in the Hopeful Stakes(G1), finishing 5th.

The most notable relative to Power World is half-sister Santa Catarina, who won the 2003 Hollywood Breeders’ Cup Oaks(G2). She also has a number of notable graded stakes placings, finishing second in both the Del Mar Debutante(G1) and Frizette Stakes(G1), the latter being a two-length defeat to eventual champion Storm Flag Flying. She was again defeated by that filly when finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies(G1), and eventually would finish second to Bird Town in the Kentucky Oaks(G1) and then third as the favorite in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes(G2). Santa Catarina was by Unbridled, and Power World is by Distorted Humor, both stallions tracing tail-male to Mr. Prospector.

Alpha, a Darley colt trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, won by six lengths at first asking in a seven furlong MSW at Saratoga. The son of Bernardini is out of the Nijinsky II mare Munnaya, making him a half to G2-placed Lavender Sky.

The favorite, Union Rags, will break from the six position. He is undefeated in two starts, including the Saratoga Special Stakes(G2) in his last effort. He sat off the pace in his debut win, and then went nearly wire-to-wire in the Saratoga Special, where he drifted out badly in the lane but won by 7 1/4 anyway.

His pedigree is intriguing, being inbred 3×4 to Northern Dancer and 4×3 to Mr. Prospector. That’s not to mention his female family. His third dam, Glad Rags, was the ’65 Champion 2 year old filly in Ireland, and the dam of Gorytus(by Nijinsky II), who was 2-for-2 at age 2, including a G2 win. Glad Rags was also the dam of Mirthful Flirt(by Raise a Native), who was 2-for-3 at age 2, including a G3 win and place. Union Rags’ second dam, Terpsichorus, was a G2 winner who banked over $400k from 28 starts. His dam Tempo won the first 2 starts of her career at 6 furlongs, and then ran second at a mile in what would be her third and final start. I don’t think two turns will be a problem for the son of Dixie Union.

Right to Vote will wear the seven saddle cloth on Saturday, and after running second in his debut he broke his maiden in wire-to-wire fashion in a six furlong MSW at Belmont Park. While the competition in both of these races seems to have been inferior to the competition some of the others have faced, Right to Vote has a very interesting pedigree. His dam, What a Knight, was a Washington-bred daughter of Tough Knight, and actually won a minor stakes race at Yakima Meadows at age two. What is more intriguing, though, is What a Knight’s produce record. In 2003, she produced What a Song, who was undefeated in three lifetime starts, all at age two, including two victories over over eventual BC Juvenile victor and 2-year-old champion Stevie Wonderboy. He won his debut over that colt, and then took the Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes(G3), and the Best Pal Stakes(G2). What a Song was by Songandaprayer, himself by Unbridled’s Song, the grandsire of Right to Vote through his son Political Force.

Invocation, the eight horse in the Champagne Stakes, is the sole maiden in the field. He ran third in his debut behind Giant Surprise and Officer Prado, and then ran second to Alpha in his following start. The son of Pulpit will, of course, have to face that opponent again today, and nothing seems indicative of him being able to make up six lengths, unless the blinkers on give him some newfound talent. His pedigree isn’t terrible, though, as while his dam was 0-for-4 lifetime, she was a half-sibling to multiple graded stakes-winner Hurricane Bertie, by Storm Boot, who earned over $940k in 14 wins from 35 starts, and had her crowning moment in the 1998 Prioress Stakes(G2).

Missamerica Bertie, Invocation’s dam, was also a full sibling to Allamerican Bertie, who was 8-for-14 lifetime, including wins in the Rampart Handicap(G2), Sabin Handicap(G3), Falls City Handicap(G2), and Delaware Oaks(G3). She also ran second to Kentucky Oaks winner Farda Amiga in the 2002 Alabama Stakes(G1).

The final entrant in the 2011 Champagne Stakes is Laurie’s Rocket. He ran second at 47-1 in his debut, and then won a 5 1/2 furlong MSW at Saratoga in his following start. However, none of the 4 horses he defeated that day that have raced since have broken their maidens. Laurie’s Rocket moved from his maiden-breaking win to run 4th of 10 in the Hopeful Stakes(G1) behind Currency Swap.

Overall, it looks like Union Rags is the horse to beat, but he is not unbeatable. I’d use him on top, but would consider Power World a live longshot at 8-1 on the morning line. Alpha and Takes the Gold, 5-2 and 6-1 respectively, also make some sense, and No Spin could make some noise also. However, Union Rags and Power World look like the two most likely winners.

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