So, who would be foolish enough to travel all the way from California just for the privilege of duking it out with Todd Pletcher's formidable trio of unbeatens in the $400,000 Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 6 at Belmont Park? Trainer Doug O'Neill and his freakishly fast colt, Goldencents, that's who.
Although Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) winner Shanghai Bobby and brilliant maiden winners Archwarrior and Micromanage scared off all but two local horses in the one-mile race for juveniles, that didn't deter O'Neill. Nor did it give pause to trainer Jeremy Noseda, who is sending the maiden Chief Havoc all the way from England, making the Champagne all the more intriguing.
A Breeders' Cup "Win & You're In" event for the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), the Champage is race 8 on Belmont's Saturday card with a 4:34 p.m. EDT scheduled post. There are two other grade I tilts on the program, the $400,000 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies at one mile, and the $400,000 Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) for 3-year-olds on turf at 1 1/8 miles.
Shanghai Bobby, who breaks from post 2 under Rosie Napravnik as the 3-1 co-second choice in the field of seven, is a powerful presence by himself. He has won all three of his starts including a 3 3/4-length jaunt in the Hopeful for owner Starlight Racing. Previously, he won the overnight Track Barron Stakes and broke his maiden by four lengths at Aqueduct Race Track back in April going 4 1/2 furlongs. The son of Harlan's Holiday was purchased for $105,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.
"We were encouraged with the way he rated in the Hopeful," said Pletcher, who Sept. 30 won the Futurity (gr. II) with Overanalyze and the Matron (gr. II) with Kauai Katie. "Even though he was close to the pace, he was able to let horses go in front of him and seemed to settle pretty well. The fact he successfully got seven furlongs and wasn't desperate doing it was a good indication that a one-turn mile should be well within his scope."
Archwarrior, who drew post 4 and will be ridden by John Velazquez, is the 5-2 morning line pick. He went into his career debut at Saratoga Race Course with more pre-race hype than any 2-year-old in memory, and he lived up to it, winning by 3 1/4 lengths. Many expected a more dominating performance at 1-4 odds, but the son of Arch , owned by Alto Racing, is a big, long-striding colt who is bred to go long and did quite well winning at six furlongs.
"He's a big, strong colt who has shown us a lot of ability in the mornings, and I thought he backed it up with a good, solid effort in his debut," said Pletcher. "I liked the way he finished the race and the way he galloped out, and he's trained well since then. It's an ambitious move, but it's a move we think that fits his schedule based off what we've seen."
Micromanage, as of Oct. 3, was not a sure thing to start, as he was also entered in the Dover Stakes at Delaware Park the same day. The son of Medaglia d'Oro , who broke his maiden by five lengths at Saratoga going seven furlongs, drew post 9 of 10 in the mile and 70-yard Dover, which makes his No. 7 post in the one-turn Champagne seem all the more appealing. The Mike Repole-owned colt, to be ridden by Joel Rosario, is pegged at 5-1.
"We were expecting him to run well, but he actually exceeded our expectations," said Pletcher. "We thought he ran very well. Not only did he run well, but it seemed like he moved forward for having run the race. He's trained even better since then and has grown and filled out. He's really developing the way you want to see them do it this time of year."
So, who is this Goldencents that O'Neill and owners W C Racing, Dave Kenney, and RAP Racing would send him cross-country to face Pletcher's powerhouse trio, as well as Sanford (gr. II) winner Bern Identity, who was third in the Hopeful, and Godolphin Racing's Fortify, second in the Hopeful?
The son of Into Mischief won his only start by 7 1/4 lengths over the Polytrack surface at Del Mar going 5 1/2 furlongs, earning a hefty 93 Beyer speed figure. O'Neill felt that since he won in hand and seems more suited to one turn, it made sense to ship east despite the stiff competition.
Goldencents drew the rail at 3-1 on the morning line, so his strategy seems pretty clear. He will be ridden again by Kevin Krigger.
Bern Identity, trained by Kelley Breen for George and Lori Hall, returns to Belmont, where he broke his maiden by 13 3/4 lengths June 1. The son of Bernstein gets the services of Edgar Prado.
Fortify, from the Kiaran McLaughlin stable, broke his maiden first time out by 5 1/2 lengths at Saratoga before finishing a solid second in the Hopeful despite being bumped at the start. He will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez.
The Euro invader, Chief Havoc, finished third in his career debut over the Kempton all-weather track, and then was second, beaten three-quarters of length, in an allowance grass on grass at Newbury. Both races were at a mile. The $325,000 son of Giant's Causeway will have Cornelio Velasquez in the irons.