Champagne Looking to Celebrate in Oaks

Champagne Looking to Celebrate in Oaks
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Champagne d'Oro training at Churchill Downs.
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To say that Mike Moreno of Southern Equine Stables is experiencing a lot of anticipation these days would be an understatement. The Louisiana native, who operates Southern Equine with trainer Eric Guillot, not only has a promising filly named Champagne d'Oro heading into the April 30 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, but his champion broodmare, Better Than Honour, is also scheduled to deliver a Street Cry filly any day.

Moreno is hoping Champagne d’Oro, who will enter the Oaks off second-place effort in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), will help fill the void of her stablemate Mi Sueno, who suffered a condylar fracture of a cannon bone during a workout last September and was retired from racing. Mi Sueno who is still owned by Southern Equine, is currently in foal to Champagne d'Oro's sire, Medaglia d'Oro  .

“We had a major disappointment when Mi Sueno was hurt,” said Moreno of the daughter of Pulpit, who took last year’s Darley Debutante (gr. I) and Sorrento Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar. “We think and still do that she was the class of this crop. So it’s a little bit of redemption for us to have her stablemate now moving forward the way she is and the fact she’s in the Oaks. We certainly dreamed more about Mi Sueno being there more than Champagne to be honest, but it’s nice that (Champagne d’Oro) stepped up and filled in for Mi Sueno.”

Bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm, Champagne d’Oro  placed in the Cinderella Stakes as a 2-year-old in 2009, but ran a disappointing 12th in that year’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). While the filly has never raced at Churchill before, she has worked twice at the track. After posting two bullet works at Fair Grounds earlier this spring, she covered six furlongs over a fast track in 1:14 flat at Churchill April 17, and six furlongs over a sloppy track in 1:16 2/5 April 24.

“We knew early on that (Champagne d’Oro) was a nice horse and she had Oaks potential, but we didn’t think honestly that we were going to have time to get to the Oaks, because her first start wasn’t until (this) February, and it was a sprint,” Moreno said.

“But we took her from six furlongs after a three and a half-month layoff to a mile and a sixteenth in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), and she ran a huge race. She got a lot out of that race, so I think she’s going to run well (in the Oaks). I think she’s going to really like the track and the speed bias of that track.”

Guillot and Moreno campaign Champagne d’Oro with fellow Louisiana resident Mike Smith (not to be confused with jockey Mike Smith), a friend and business associate who owns a 10% share of the filly.

“In September of last year, we were having a business meeting, and (Smith) was talking about our program and how impressed he was with it,” said Moreno. “He had had horses in the past, and he wasn’t currently in racing and said he didn’t have the opportunity to have a nice, quality Thoroughbred. So he asked me if I would consider selling an interest in Champagne, and I did.

“Mike is extremely excited. He’s had a lot of claimers in his life, but he’s never had a graded stakes horse of this caliber.”

While Moreno is ecstatic about Champagne d’Oro’s run in the Oaks, he is also greatly looking forward to the birth of Better Than Honour’s filly. Moreno and Guillot board Better Than Honour, the most expensive Thoroughbred broodmare ever sold at public auction, at Walmac Farm near Lexington.

The 14-year-old grade II-winning daughter of Deputy Minister was Kentucky’s Broodmare of the Year in 2007. Her offspring include 2006 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Jazil, 2007 Belmont winner and champion Rags to Riches, grade II winner Casino Drive, and 2009 Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Man of Iron.

“She’s doing fantastic,” said Moreno of Better Than Honour. “Hopefully we can get her right back in foal after this baby is healthy and delivered. We’re going to go right back to either Street Cry or Medaglia d’Oro. We’ll make the decision after we see the foal. We’re all excited about her getting back on the produce wagon.”

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