Some of the most promising two-year-olds on the East Coast are set to face off in Saturday’s $500,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) that also figures to toss up a few early contenders for the 2019 Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
Nine of the ten starters enter the Champagne off of victories, so it’s hard to knock anyone in the field and splitting these runners could be akin to splitting hairs. From a speed figure perspective, the clear standout is Trophy Chaser, who was sensational while breaking his maiden going six furlongs at Gulfstream Park by 15 ¾ lengths over the next-out winner Cafe Du Monde. Granted, the track was sloppy and sealed (which may have exaggerated his margin of victory), but Trophy Chaser ran legitimately fast that day, getting involved in a quick pace before powering away through a :23.37 final quarter-mile. His final time of 1:09.50 translated to a 96 Beyer and 102 BRIS speed figure, massive numbers compared to those earned by his Champagne rivals.
Better still, as a son of Twirling Candy out of a Successful Appeal mare, Trophy Chaser is bred to stretch out in distance, and after breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59 2/5 on September 28th, he seems ready to roll while making his stakes debut. They’ll have to catch him to beat him.
And if anyone can catch Trophy Chaser, it might be #1 Endorsed. A well-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro out of the Grade 1-winning mare Dance Card, Endorsed was overlooked in the wagering for his debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga, which proved to be a serious mistake since the Godolphin homebred was clearly ready to run. After breaking just a bit slowly, Endorsed was urged throughout to keep pace with his speedier rivals, but nevertheless stayed on relentlessly to wear down the heavy favorite Ahead of Plan and win by a neck in the final strides.
Endorsed’s powerful finish after being urged from the start caught my eye and hints that he’s got an abundance of stamina, which his pedigree certainly backs up. Stretching out to a mile should be no issue for this Kiaran McLaughlin-trained runner, who appears to have a very bright future.
The Chad Brown-trained maiden winners #4 Complexity and #9 Aurelius Maximus have shown significant potential thus far and can’t be underestimated; down the road, Aurelius Maximus might be the more promising Derby candidate thanks to his strongly classic-oriented pedigree, but Complexity has been the faster colt on paper thus far and should have enough stamina in his pedigree to see out the one-turn mile of the Champagne.
#8 Code of Honor took advantage of a slow pace to win his debut at Saratoga and could face a tougher setup in the Champagne, but then again, trainer Shug McGaughey wins so infrequently with debuting two-year-olds that Code of Honor’s first-out win is eye-catching regardless of the beneficial setup he received. He’s another stoutly-bred youngster who should have no trouble stretching out to a mile, and the same goes for the unbeaten #5 Call Paul, who out-battled the talented Tight Ten to win the Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga.
As you can see, there are plenty of options to consider in the Champagne! I’m going to take a stand with Endorsed and Trophy Chaser, using them on top with the Brown runners (and to a lesser extent, Code of Honor) underneath: