ELMONT, N.Y. -- Trainer Jason Servis felt Firenze Fire had enough of an excuse when he ran fourth in the Hopeful at Saratoga last month to give the horse another chance in a Grade 1 race.
Saturday, no excuses were necessary for Firenze Fire as he circled the field five wide in the stretch under Irad Ortiz Jr. and rallied past the maiden Good Magic to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne Stakes by a half-length at Belmont Park. It was three lengths back to Enticed in third.
Kowboy Karma, who acted up in the paddock, finished fourth and was followed, in order, by Hazit, Honorable Treasure, Aveenu Malcainu, the 3-1 favorite, Full of Run, Bahamian, Stronger, Master Manipulator, and Blame It On Honey.
The win was not only the third in four starts for Firenze Fire, a son of Poseidon's Warrior, it earned him a fees-paid berth into the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
Firenze Fire, owned and bred by Ron Lombardi's Mr. Amore Stable, added the Champagne to a prior victory in the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga on July 22. In the week leading up to the Hopeful, Firenze Fire was coughing but Servis ran him anyway. The horse ran flat, didn't change leads during the running of the race, and finished fourth, 4 1/4 lengths behind Sporting Chance.
"He wasn't right that day," Servis said. "Whether he had a virus or something going on, that wasn't him. He changed leads today."
Firenze Fire broke sharp from the outside post in the 12-horse field, but Ortiz was content to let the speed go and he settled into 10th position, about nine lengths off the pace. Aveenu Malcainu, under Luis Saez, surprisingly made the pace and was hounded by Hazit and Kowboy Karma through a half-mile in 45.94 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.37.
Good Magic, under Jose Ortiz, raced in between horses down the backstretch and launched a four-wide bid around the turn. Firenze Fire followed that move.
Just above the eighth pole, Good Magic took the lead, but Firenze Fire went right after him and collared him inside the sixteenth pole to get the victory.
Firenze Fire covered the mile in 1:35.91 and returned $24.
"Passing the three-eighths pole I still had horse, he hadn't moved yet," Ortiz said. "He was working good, so I knew when I asked him he was going to be there for me. When I saw [Good Magic] turning for home going to take the lead I said 'we got to go.' He's a good horse with a good trainer, I knew he was going to have something for me in the end."
Both Servis and Lombardi said Firenze Fire would be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Trainer Chad Brown might have to consider sending Good Magic to the Juvenile as well. Though a maiden, Good Magic ran a solid second for the second straight race.
"I thought the horse ran terrific, he just got beat," Brown said. "But I thought he ran really well, especially for a maiden. It was the first time he's seen dirt in his face and I thought he learned a lot from that. He just proved to be the second-best right near the wire, but I'm proud of his performance."