CHAMPAGNE STAKES | PURSE: $500,000 | 2-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | ONE MILE
Havana extended his neck in the final strides and reached the wire just in time over a surging Honor Code to capture the $500,000 Foxwoods Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds Oct. 5 at Belmont Park.
In a terrific finish between impressive debut maiden winners at Saratoga Race Course last month, Havana got the job done with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Michael Tabor, John Magnier, and Derrick Smith.
Havana completed the one-turn mile in 1:35.81 as the 5-2 third choice in a field of nine, edging 9-5 favorite Honor Code by a neck. Ride On Curlin was third while Hopeful Stakes winner Strong Mandate was unplaced.
The winner, a Kentucky-bred son of Dunkirk out of the Kyle's Our Man mare Missy Turtle, sold for $575,000 at Barretts Racing & Sales in March to Coolmore's Demi O'Bryne when consigned by Excel Bloodstock. The gray/roan colt was bred by Harvey Clarke, who also bred 2012 dual classic winner I'll Have Another .
The Champagne victory secures a slot in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park for the winning connections as a "Win & You're In" event.
"Anytime you go from 5 ½ [furlongs] to a mile and do it against the type of horses he was in with today, it's always a concern," Pletcher said. "We did a similar thing with Uncle Mo , the difference being that was six (furlongs) to a mile. I think it takes a pretty special horse to do it. I'm proud of his efforts today. We knew we were asking him [for] a lot, but we were doing it because we liked him a lot."
Pletcher said the Champagne should have Havana fit for whatever comes in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"I can't imagine the horses we ran against today aren't going to be certainly some of the favorites for it," he said. "I think there's room for improvement. I think he can move forward for his third start."
Havana debuted with a front-running 2 3/4-length tally going 5 ½ furlongs Aug. 23, running to his 2-5 odds at Saratoga.
He did not get the lead this time, however, breaking inward a bit as Debt Ceiling provided a swift early tempo just off the inside, stepping the opening quarter mile in :22.87. Strong Mandate, who broke on the lead from the outside, quickly dropped back into the pack down the backstretch and Honor Code dropped out last, about 10 to 11 lengths off the pace.
Racing in hand, Havana poked his head in front after getting the half in :45.54 and took command by 2 ½ lengths over 40-1 Intense Holiday, who took up the chase as Debt Ceiling gave way. Havana opened up by 2 ½ lengths at the quarter pole, completing six furlongs in 1:10.12 and was five lengths in front mid-stretch.
The race was far from over, however, as Honor Code, angling about eight paths wide off the turn for Javier Castellano, charged home on the outside of Ride On Curlin and Alex Solis. Havana came under pressure from Ortiz in the final 70 yards and got to the wire just in time.
"In the first part I thought they were going too fast, so I waited a little bit," said Ortiz after replacing John Velazquez, who was at Keeneland Saturday to ride Wise Dan. "I had a couple horses beside me, so I had to use him a little earlier than I wanted. He got the lead early, but he was ready. When I asked him, he picked it up. He got a little tired at the end a little bit, but he was still running. He was perfect all the way."
Honor Code finished 1 ½ lengths in front of 17-1 Ride On Curlin in third. it was nearly seven lengths back to fourth-place finisher Casiguapo, who was followed by Intense Holiday, Long On Value, Strong Mandate, and Grand Arrival. Debt Ceiling was eased in the final furlong.
The victory was worth $300,000 to the winning connections, bringing Havana's total bankroll to $348,000.
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, the winner paid $7.20, $3.80, and $3.30. Honor Code, a 4 ½-length debut maiden winner Aug. 31 for trainer Shug McGaughey after coming from way out of it on a sloppy track, returned $3.20 and $2.90. The exacta was worth $26.20. Ride On Curlin paid $5.90 to show.
"Having to go wide probably cost us the race, but Havana got the jump at the head of the stretch and opened up, and we were unlucky to not catch him," McGaughey said of Honor Code. "I thought it was an awfully big effort for a horse of his type who is just learning and is kind of lazy in the first part until you do ask him."
McGaughey said he may skip the cross-country ship for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and instead run Honor Code in the Remsen Stakes Nov. 30 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"Obviously, next spring would be our main objective," he said. "Whatever [owners Lane's End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm] want to do is going to be fine with me."
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Strong Mandate, said his colt may have not cared for Belmont's deep racing surface.
"It's quite a drastic change from Churchill Downs and Saratoga to this," he noted while saying he would aim for the BC juvenile with Strong Mandate.