The setting might be different this year, but Saturday’s edition of the Champagne Stakes remains as important as ever in the chase for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old championship. Usually contested at Belmont Park, the Champagne, and the rest of the races at the fall Belmont Park meet, was moved to Aqueduct (called the Belmont at the Big A meet) due to construction at Belmont. As in past years, the Grade 1 Champagne brings together some of the most promising 2-year-olds in New York, and the winner will once again receive a free, “Win and You’re In” spot in the TVG Juvenile. The Champagne is also part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve series offering points to the top five finishers for entry into next spring’s first jewel of the Triple Crown. Points are distributed on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis.
1. Andiamo a Firenze: He’s been quite competitive in his three starts, winning two in state-bred races and finishing third in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes. Interestingly, the two wins came in the slop, so rain would boost his chances. He rebounded from the Sanford with a decisive win in the Funny Cide Stakes for New York-breds and has the kind of breeding that makes him an interesting possibility here at a mile.
2. Top Recruit: Stepped up with a sharp win in the Juvenile Stakes at Ellis Park and has worked nicely since then. Continued improvement will make him a major factor.
3. Verifying: There was quite a buzz when he made his debut at Saratoga, going off as a 3-4 favorite. He lived up to expectations and was pushed to win by a little less than two lengths. Working that hard to win could prove to be the kind of experience that can pay a dividend here.
4. Champions Dream: He was a gate-to-wire winner of his debut, though the final time was on the slow side. He’s certainly working quickly since then and could make his presence felt as part of the early pace scenario.
5. Blazing Sevens: He was a distant third in the Hopeful Stakes, but that Grade 1 stakes was contested on a wet track. His debut on a dry track was much more impressive as he won by a little more than six lengths. He’ll surely be hoping for clear skies Saturday.
6. Gulfport: He was the even-money favorite in the Hopeful, but was second by three lengths to Forte, who skipped this race. He’s had some trouble in his last two starts, racing very wide in the Hopeful, and if new rider Jose Ortiz can work out a smooth trip with him, he might be tough to beat.
THE PICK: Verifying
LIVE LONGSHOT: Blazing Sevens