Six Column Racing and Randall Bloch's Champagne Anyone, third in back-to-back graded events earlier at the Championship Meet, gave her connections reason to celebrate by rallying past pacesetter Cookie Dough in mid-stretch and holding off favored Dunbar Road for her first career stakes triumph in Saturday's $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).
The 49th running of the Gulfstream Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies was the fourth of seven stakes, four graded, worth $2.15 million in purses on a blockbuster 14-race $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) Day program.
Racing with blinkers for the first time in her seventh career start for trainer Ian Wilkes, Champagne Anyone ($17.20) covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.47 over a fast main track to win by a half-length under regular rider Chris Landeros.
Dunbar Road, favored at 6-5 in the field of six off her impressive debut victory March 3 at Gulfstream, was second, three-quarters of a length ahead of multiple stakes winner Cookie Dough. Point of Honor, previously unbeaten in two starts, Safta and Bella Ciao completed the order of finish.
It was the first Oaks victory for Wilkes, who worked as an assistant to Carl Nafzger when the Hall of Fame trainer won Gulfstream's premiere stakes for sophomore fillies with Banshee Breeze in 1998 and Last Song in 2004.
Champagne Anyone, a bay daughter of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Street Sense, finished third in the one-mile Davona Dale (G2) March 2 behind Cookie Dough after being beaten less than a length in the seven-furlong Forward Gal (G2) Feb. 2 in her 3-year-old debut.
She found herself much closer to the pace in the Oaks, sitting second on the outside as Cookie Dough rolled through a quarter-mile in 23.80 seconds and a half in 47.58. Dunbar Road was kept in the clear three wide in third and 30-1 long shot Safta kept pace in fourth.
“I think the blinkers made her more tractable in the race. She's a filly who doesn't like Chris to ask her to be in the race,” Wilkes said. “I had to do something to where she took Chris into the race. I wasn't worried where she was today. It didn't mean that I need to be on the lead. It didn't mean I had to be second. I left it up to Chris to be where I wanted to be. That's the idea with the blinkers – to get her to travel more and not dislike what Chris was doing on her.”
Cookie Dough, beaten a head after setting the pace in the Davona Dale in her first race in 22 weeks, maintained a slim advantage on the far turn after going six furlongs in 1:11.77 until Champagne Anyone uncorked her winning move once straightened for home, edging past near the eighth pole and turning back Dunbar Road's late surge.
“They put blinkers on her and we anticipated being a little bit more aggressive with her instead of falling out. I got her into a gear early and she went along beautifully today,” Landeros said. “She's so naturally gifted. She still doesn't know when to completely lay it down. But, today's a big step forward and I think the best is yet to come for her.”
Wilkes said the May 3 Kentucky Oaks (G1) would be the next target for Champagne Anyone, whose previous race at Churchill Downs resulted in a fourth-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod (G2) Nov. 24 in her juvenile finale.
“[The Kentucky Oaks] has been our whole goal. We made the plan – we went in the Golden Rod last year to get experience and come back and start at seven-eighths, a mile, a mile and a sixteenth,” Wilkes said. “I felt the filly needed racing. She's a filly that's still learning. If I ran her once, twice, she wouldn't be ready for the Oaks, that's why I felt I had to get more racing, more miles, into her.”
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