One year ago, maiden winner Uncle Mo notched his first stakes victory in Belmont Park 's Grade 1 Champagne en route to his triumph in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and eventual Champion 2-Year-Old Male honors.
Saturday, a solid group of similarly minded juveniles will line up for the 141st running of the $300,000 Champagne, one of two Grade 1 “Win and You're In” races at Belmont for the upcoming Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs. Also on the 10-race card are the $300,000 Frizette for juvenile fillies, a “Win and You're In” race, and the $250,000 Jamaica for sophomore grass horses.
All three races will be broadcast live on MSG Plus from 4 – 5:30 p.m. EDT.
Assuming the favorite's role among the nine 2-year-olds in the Champagne is the undefeated Union Rags, most recently seen drawing away to a 7 ¼-length triumph after swerving in the stretch in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special on August 15. Trained by Michael Matz for Chadds Ford Stable, the Dixie Union colt earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort, which came a month after his maiden win at Delaware Park .
“He's been doing fine,” said Matz of Union Rags. “He's growing up, and each race he will continue to mature more and hopefully progress. Right now, we are quite happy with the way he is.”
Javier Castellano is back aboard Union Rags, 7-5 on the morning line, from post position 6.
Drawing just inside Union Rags is Alpha, a six-length maiden winner in his debut going seven furlongs at Saratoga Race Course on September 3.
“Union Rags is the horse to beat but we like our horse,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin of Alpha, who will sport the blue Godolphin silks Saturday. “He's doing great and the one mile should suit. We just broke his maiden, so it's a big step to a Grade 1. The timing is good, with him having had his first race a month ago. As racing goes, you'd like to start them a little earlier, but we're here now. We think he fits well.”
“There's a lot more to it than meets the eye,” said McLaughlin. “The breeding, the people who put the mating together, and now you're going for a Grade 1 with a son of their stallion – there's a lot to it. So it's exciting.”
Alan Garcia, who was aboard for Alpha's bullet five-furlong work in 59.88 on Monday , will ride the 5-2 second choice on the morning line from post position 5.
Invocation, who was second to Alpha after finishing third in his debut, will be outfitted with blinkers for the Champagne .
“We feel this horse has improved in his workouts with the addition of blinkers,” said John Kimmel, who trains Invocation for Summit Thoroughbreds. “His numbers suggest he is competitive with this group of horses, and we feel the extra distance should benefit him as well. There's more top side than bottom side.”
David Cohen rides the son of Pulpit, 20-1 on the morning line, from post position 8.
Coming in from Chicago is the Tim Ice-trained No Spin, most recently fourth after a troubled trip in the Grade 2 Arlington-Washington Futurity.
“He was trying to come up the rail and had no room; when he was working his way outside he got knocked sideways, but it didn't faze him,” said Ice, who trains the Johannesburg colt for Leonard Blach and Ray Willis. “He's a nice colt and his numbers have improved every time he runs.”
Riding No Spin from the rail will be Rajiv Maragh. The colt, who broke his maiden by 5 ½ lengths at second asking, is 20-1 on the morning line.
The Champagne also drew – from post position 2 out – Speightscity, an 11 ½-length maiden winner at Saratoga on September 2; Takes the Gold, a 3 ¼-length maiden winner at Belmont on September 10; Power World, the Grade 2 Sanford runner-up who was subsequently fifth in the Grade 1 Three Chimneys Hopeful; Right to Vote, who broke his maiden at second asking at Belmont on September 17, and Laurie's Rocket, fourth in the Hopeful.
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