Practical Joke got the last laugh Oct. 8 in one of the most exciting editions of the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I).
The winner overcame an awkward start in the field of six and the runner-up found a way to battle to the wire after blazing early fractions. Trained by Chad Brown, Practical Joke, by Into Mischief , completed the test in 1:34.68 on a fast track.
When the gates opened, Practical Joke initially moved forward, but then drifted in from his inside post. Meanwhile Syndergaard and jockey John Velazquez motored to the front, where they dueled with Big Gray Rocket early through a quarter-mile in :22.74. Syndergaard, a New York-bred son of Majesticperfection trained by Todd Pletcher, showed the way through a half-mile in :44.63. He then opened a clear lead through six furlongs in 1:08.76.
After saving ground, Practical Joke and Joel Rosario improved position in the turn and engaged the front-runner at the eighth pole to set up the memorable finish.
"I've got to look at the replay to see what happened (at the start), but Joel (Rosario) quickly moved inside of horses, which I thought was smart, and set himself up for a clear run when he tipped him out," Brown said. "They were obviously going very fast in front, not only the two leaders, but my other horse (Favorable Outcome) in close pursuit behind, so the race set up beautifully for this horse.
"He's undefeated, he's a really good horse. He's handled the distance increases every time we've asked him to, and we're looking forward to getting to run him a little bit further. The runner-up is a very good horse as well, and deserves a lot of credit for fighting as well as he did."
Rosario said Practical Joke lost his focus at the start for a few strides.
"He kind of broke awkward on the inside and I had to use him a little through the chute," Rosario said. "He was looking around and it took him a little time to get back in the race but he was fine after that. They were going really fast up front but it looks like the more distance he gets to run into the better he gets. For a second when I got to the other horse (Syndergaard) he waited a little bit. He's still a young horse if anything but looks good going forward."
Favorable Outcome finished third. Practical Joke paid $7.90, $3.90, and $2.60 across the board and the runner-up returned $3.60 and $2.70. Favorable Outcome paid $2.60 to show. Big Gray Rocket finished fourth.
"Tough beat. Not much to say, other than he got beat," Velazquez said of the close runner-up. "He had to fight the whole way around, and that was it. He dug in."
The Champagne is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race to the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). The Champagne also carries qualifying points (10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers) toward the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) field.
Bred in Kentucky by Whispering Oaks, Practical Joke is out of stakes-placed Distorted Humor mare Halo Humor. Aquinnah Ventures went to $240,000 to land Practical Joke for his current owners at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale, where he was consigned by Gainesway, agent.