Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
The fields for the 14 races that comprise the Breeders’ Cup World Championships really begin to come into focus in late summer and early fall.
The “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series offers the winners of specific individual races an expenses-paid starting spot for corresponding Breeders’ Cup races.
On Oct. 2 at Belmont Park, Jack Christopher dominated as the favorite in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes, a “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
With two wins in as many starts by a combined margin of 11 ½ lengths, Jack Christopher figures to be among the favorites for the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 5 at Del Mar.
Jack Christopher was purchased for $135,000 at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale by BSW/Crow Bloodstock on behalf of Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister. He made his career debut Aug. 28 at Saratoga Race Course for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, but even before his first race there was optimism around his barn that he might be a major talent.
Jack Christopher lived up to lofty expectations with an 8 ¾-length romp in the three-quarter-mile sprint, a race in which he broke sharply, relaxed under jockey Jose Ortiz just off the pace, and then seized control when given his cue to accelerate.
“He was a horse that identified himself as early on as his first work,” Brown recalled after his victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes Oct. 2. “I was on the phone with the connections saying, ‘This is potentially a really good horse. I can’t believe what I just saw.’ He’s just been brilliant in every work. There was some buzz around him before he ran, and he lived up to it.”
As well as Jack Christopher ran on the racetrack, the performance was equally well received on paper as speed-figure makers gave him an 88 Equibase Speed Figure, a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, and a 99 Brisnet speed rating. He also earned a very impressive 9 ½ on the Ragozin Sheets. Lower is better for Ragozin numbers, and a 9 ½ for Jack Christopher’s debut was a sign of elite ability.
Prior to the Champagne Stakes, prominent owners Coolmore and Peter Brant both purchased an interest in the talented Munnings colt.
Sent off as the 1.70-1 Champagne favorite in a field of six, Jack Christopher followed a similar script to the one he utilized in his career debut. He used his speed to establish tactical position just in behind pacesetter Gunite in the one-turn mile race, relaxed nicely under Ortiz, and rallied past the leader in early stretch en route to a 5 ½-length advantage. Jack Christopher did look to be shortening stride a bit late but coasted to a 2 ¾-length win.
Despite a rather slow final quarter-mile in 26.16 seconds, Jack Christopher earned a new career-top 100 Equibase Speed Figure and 93 Beyer Speed Figure while running an extra quarter-mile. He took a slight step back according to Brisnet speed ratings, going from the 99 for his debut win to a 94 in the Champagne.
No doubt, Jack Christopher looks like promising prospect. The next big hurdle will be trying to carry his speed around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile. While the race is only a sixteenth of a mile longer than the Champagne, navigating two turns is a much different challenge than a one-turn mile and it’s fair to look at how Jack Christopher finished and have stamina concerns.
Trainer Brown is best known for his work on the grass – and 13 of his 15 career Breeders’ Cup wins have come on turf – but he has proved very capable with top dirt horses by winning the Preakness with Cloud Computing and the Juvenile with Good Magic, both in 2017. He also finished second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in 2018 with Good Magic and second in that year’s Belmont Stakes with Gronkowski. Perhaps more important than the turf-dirt surface proficiency, however, is just how good Brown is with 2-year-olds as seven of his 15 wins in the Breeders’ Cup have come with juveniles. He’ll have Jack Christopher ready.
Jack Christopher is from the eighth crop of multiple graded stakes winner Munnings, who was at his best sprinting but had the stamina to run third in the 2009 Haskell Invitational Stakes behind Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird.
Munnings has developed into a very nice sire, ranking sixth on the North American sire list by progeny earnings in both 2020 and 2021. As expected, Munnings has sired his fair share of elite sprinters but many of his top runners like I’m a Chatterbox, Om, Warrior’s Charge, Finite, and Bonny South earned their most important victories in graded stakes around two turns.
Jack Christopher is the second winner from three starters out of the Half Ours mare Rushin No Blushin, a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire) to multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter and sire Street Boss.
Thinking long range about the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, I would have some doubts about Jack Christopher capably stretching out to 1 ¼ miles. But another sixteenth of a mile in five weeks should be within the scope of this talented and flashy colt.