Jack Christopher Earns Breeders’ Cup Berth in Champagne, Art Collector Impressive in Woodward

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Jack Christopher, with Jose Ortiz riding, won the Champagne Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths on Oct. 2 at Belmont Park to earn a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Running true to his odds as the 1.70-1 favorite, Jack Christopher captured the $500,000, Grade 1 Champagne Stakes Oct. 2 at Belmont Park by 2 ¾ lengths over Commandperformance.

The strapping son of Munnings, owned by Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud, and Peter Brant, stalked early leader and Hopeful Stakes winner Gunite in the early going of the one-mile Champagne, then dispatched that foe and took command as the field rounded the turn. Jack Christopher kicked clear in the stretch under jockey Jose Ortiz, stopping the timer in 1:37.31.

Trained by Chad Brown, Jack Christopher stamped himself as a serious contender in his division when he won his debut Aug. 28 by 8 ¾ lengths in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Saratoga Race Course. His performance was so impressive that handicappers made him the favorite in the Champagne over Gunite and Wit, who won the Sanford Stakes during the Saratoga meet.

Commandperformance, a longshot at 12.60-1, put in a strong run in mid-stretch to finish second, followed by Wit in third.

"He gave me a great kick," said Ortiz. "When he passed (Gunite), he stopped running a little bit. He didn't give me everything he had, I believe. I think first time going a mile this will help him for that next step."

Brown said Jack Christopher showed his exceptional talent as early as his first workout.

"I was on the phone with the connections saying, 'This is potentially a really good horse. I can't believe what I just saw,'" the trainer said. "He's just been brilliant in every work. There was some buzz around him before he ran, and he lived up to it."

Heading to the winner’s circle (Janet Garaguso/NYRA Photo)

Jack Christopher is Brown's third Champagne winner following Complexity in 2018 and Practical Joke in 2016.

The one-mile Champagne Stakes is a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race for the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Nov. 5 at Del Mar. Brown said he's hoping Jack Christopher follows in the steps of Good Magic, who was second in the 2017 Champagne for the trainer and went on to win the Juvenile at Del Mar and then 2-year-old championship honors.

"Where does he fall? I hope with Good Magic. He looks a lot like him," said. "What I like a lot about him is that he switches off nicely. He's not a horse that pulls. If you drop your hands, he'll switch off and rate. Will he do that around two turns? I don't know, but we'll be sure to have him prepared in the morning to take a little dirt and sit. We'll see if he can do it at Del Mar."

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione aboard Commandperformance said Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable's son of Union Rags put himself in a great spot down the backside.

"I was able to see everybody in front of me. Going around the turn, I started to get him into gear and he kept responding," Gaffalione said. "His gallop out was great. He seems like he'll love the distance going forward."

Byron Hughes, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, said he was happy with Commandperformance's run.

"He had the outside post and Tyler took advantage of that. He kept him out there and kept his face clean. He was gaining on the winner at the end and had a good gallop out. We're happy with the effort."–Eric Mitchell

Art Collector Wins Third Straight with Pace-Controlling Score in Woodward

Bruce Lunsford's homebred Art Collector garnered his third consecutive stakes win since he was moved to trainer Bill Mott back in July and earned his first top-level score by leading all the way in the $500,000, Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on the Oct. 2 card at Belmont Park.

Art Collector wins the Woodward. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Art Collector assumed early control in the 1 1/8-mile, one turn Woodward and led the field through fractions of :24:02 for the first quarter-mile and :47.78 for a half-mile. Ahead by 1 ½ lengths after six furlongs in 1:12.12, the main threat among his five opponents came from Godolphin's 9-10 favorite Maxfield, who moved off the rail to take aim at Art Collector in the stretch. Under strong urging from jockey Luis Saez, Art Collector held that foe at bay, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. 

"It was a wonderful race. I had a lot of confidence in my horse. He always tries so hard. He always comes with a run and finishes with run and today he ran his race," said Saez.

Final time was 1:49.22 as Art Collector increased his earnings to $1,535,305 from a career record of 15-8-1-0..

Since taking over the care of a horse who was a Grade 2 winner for original trainer Tom Drury, Mott has run Art Collector three times. Each was at a 1 1/8-mile distance, but they covered two turns, then three and now one. 

Another common element, and the most important one of all, is that all three stakes ended with Art Collector in front as he prevailed in the Alydar Stakes and then the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic Stakes, the aforementioned three-turn jaunt.

Next, if the next five weeks unfold as planned, Art Collector may return to two turns with a long run to the first turn as Mott indicated the $6 million 1 1/4-mile Longines Breeders' Cup Classic seems a proper fit for the 4-year-old colt.

"I don't know what we have to lose. I'll run him a mile-and-a-quarter. I'll talk with Mr. Lunsford, he makes the final decisions, but a mile-and-an-eighth hasn't been a problem for him," Mott said.

For the Grade 1-winning Maxfield, it was just his third loss in a 10-race career that has featured seven wins, two seconds and a third.

"He never lets us down," said trainer Brendan Walsh. "All credit to the winner. He ran a good race and he's a good horse. We ran a good race to be second."

Walsh added that Maxfield figures to join Godolphin's Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality in the field for the Nov. 6 Classic at Del Mar.

"I can't see why not," he said about a trip to California. "He still hasn't done anything wrong. Every race is different and our day will come, too."

St. Elias Stable's Dr. Post, a 4-year-old son of Quality Road who was third in the TVG Pacific Classic Del Mar, was a length back in third Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher.–Bob Ehalt

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