Blazing Sevens Wins Champagne to Earn Breeders' Cup Berth, Pleasant Passage Upsets Miss Grillo

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Blazing Sevens wins the 2022 Champagne Stakes at Belmont at the Big A. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

When trainer Chad Brown opted to run Rodeo Creek Racing's Blazing Sevens in the $500,000, Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at the Belmont at the Big A meet on Oct. 1 instead of the longer, two-turn Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity on Oct. 8 at Keeneland, he didn't plan on interference from meteorologists.

"I was planning to go the Breeders' Futurity but then I called an audible last week after his work," Brown said. "I thought he was a real Breeders' Cup candidate and was dying to get him around two turns, but I rather have the five weeks of rest (before the Breeders' Cup). So, I decided to ship him here (for the Champagne) and, sure enough, the hurricane came north, and I was just sick over it the last few days since I had already committed to run here."

Brown's concerns centered on Blazing Sevens' last race, when he ran on a sloppy track in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga Race Course and finished third but was a distant 12 lengths behind the victorious Forte.

Blazing Sevens (Janet Garaguso/NYRA)

Clearly, as it turned out, Spa slop and Big A slop are different surfaces as Blazing Sevens relished the wet-going at Aqueduct and rallied from last in the field of six while splashing to a 3 1/4-length victory over Verifying in the $500,000 Champagne for 2-year-olds and securing a free spot in the Nov. 4 FanDuel Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"Maybe it was a Saratoga thing. I'm not really sure about the last trip, why he didn't fire. He didn't run bad, but he wasn't himself," Brown said. "Today he moved through it perfectly"

The victory gave Brown back-to-back Champagne wins and four since 2016, but it was a second-place finish in the stakes in 2017 that added to the emotion of the moment for the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer. Five years ago, Brown sent out Good Magic to finish second to Firenze Fire in the Champagne, only to have Good Magic win the Juvenile and be named the champion 2-year-old male.

On Saturday, Brown savored his role in sending out the juvenile who became the first Grade 1 winner for first-year sire Good Magic, now a stallion at Hill 'n' Dale Farm.

"It's such a reward because Good Magic was very unlucky in the Champagne to lose to a Jason Servis (trained) horse, which is a real head-scratcher," Brown said. "This was some good karma for us that his son was able to get his head in front in the Champagne and win like he did."

Brown is hoping Blazing Sevens can mirror his sire at the Breeders' Cup, where Good Magic rolled to victory in his first try around two turns.

"He's looking for two turns, this horse," Brown said about Blazing Sevens. "I can't wait to get him around two turns. You just need everything to go right. He's got some time with five weeks. We have to get through a lot of hurdles. He needs to ship good, get a good post and all those things. This isn't our first rodeo, so hopefully he can emulate his daddy and cap off a championship year with a win in the Breeders' Cup."

A patient ride by Flavien Prat paid off in the one-turn mile as he kept Blazing Sevens at the back while Andiamo a Firenze set the early fractions of :23.32 and :47.09 while leading by a length over 1.55-1 favorite Gulfport, who was second as the even-money choice in the Hopeful.

Leaving the quarter pole, the field tightened up as Gulfport collared a tiring Andiamo a Firenze only to have debut winner Verifying move up inside of him and Blazing Sevens swoop into contention from the far outside.

Verifying, a son of Triple Crown winner Justify, forged to a half-length lead at the eighth pole but could not fend off a strong late surge from Blazing Sevens.

Sent off at 8.50-1 odds, Blazing Sevens ($19) was timed in 1:37.07 for the mile over the sloppy, sealed course that he handled with aplomb this time around.

"I could tell he hated the track (at Saratoga)," Brown said. "The fact that he got third and galloped out OK was amazing because (jockey Manny Franco) told us that day he hated the track and that he never felt good under him. These young horses, you're always learning about. They're going to catch different surfaces. These are inexperienced horses and you're going to learn a lot about them as you go. Sometimes it's going to go your way and other times you're going to have to retreat. Today, it went our way and this horse moved forward."

Verifying was second by 1 1/2 lengths over Gulfport, who finished third.

Pleasant Passage Scores Frontrunning Victory in Miss Grillo

Pleasant Passage (Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire)

Belmont at the Big A hosted a total of two Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" races on Saturday's card, with the $200,000, Grade 2 Miss Grillo Stakes for 2-year-old fillies offering a qualifying berth into the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland in Nov. 4. The upset winner of the Miss Grillo was Pleasant Passage for trainer Shug McGaughey with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard.  Sent off as the fourth betting choice at 9.60-1 in a six-horse field, Pleasant Passage went right to the lead from the start and held off favorites Free Look and Be Your Best to win the race by three quarters of a length. Final time was 1:45.25 for 1 1/16 miles run over a yielding turf course. 

Pleasant Passage was making just her second career start after having won her maiden race at first asking in a 1 1/16-mile turf race at Saratoga by a neck on Aug. 21. Pleasant Passage came from off the pace for her maiden win, but she changed tactics and went straight to the lead in the Miss Grillo and never looked back.

“She ran well in her first start from a little off the pace coming up the rail, McGaughey said. "She was very professional. Today, there wasn't any speed in the race and she had trained sharp off her last race. Irad let her do her thing when she broke and he rode a good race on her.” 

Pleasant Passage paid $21.20 to win. Free Look was second for trainer Chad Brown with Flavien Prat aboard. It was another two lengths back to the 6-5 favorite, Be Your Best, trained by Horacio De Paz and ridden by Jose Ortiz, in third. -- America's Best Racing Staff

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