by Karen M. Johnson
A rematch between Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner Majestic Warrior and runner-up Ready’s Image takes place in the Oct. 6 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Anakim, Lantana Mob, Pyro, Silver Edition, War Pass, and Z Humor were also entered. Anakim is the only horse in the field to have run and won at the Champagne’s one-mile distance. The $400,000 Champagne is designated as a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup race.
Ready’s Image is a son of the Todd Pletcher-trained More Than Ready . Pletcher and Ready’s Image’s owner, James Scatuorchio, won the Champagne last year with Scat Daddy, who later finished fourth in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
In the Hopeful, Ready’s Image was beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Majestic Warrior. Ready’s Image was the 3-5 favorite that day based on two scintillating wins in the Tremont Stakes and Sanford Stakes (gr. II). His combined margin of victory in those stakes was 11¾ lengths.
Pletcher said he was concerned with Maimonides stealing away to an easy lead in the four-horse Hopeful, so he told jockey John Velazquez to give chase. Ready’s Image stalked the pace in second and took over the lead from a tiring Maimonides early in the stretch. It looked as if Ready’s Image was on his way to a blow-out victory when Majestic Warrior unleashed a powerful late run and blew by the favorite.
“It was a difficult situation for a four-horse race,” Pletcher said. “I didn’t want to see Maimonides loose on the lead through slow fractions and I didn’t want to risk setting up the race for Majestic Warrior. In the end, we put too much pressure on Maimonides and we both were softened up.”
Pletcher choose the Champagne over Keeneland’s Oct. 6 Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) as the colt’s prep for the Oct. 27 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for a couple of reasons.
“He has won races at both Keeneland and Belmont, but I anticipated a larger field in the Breeders’ Futurity and was concerned about the post position (draw) because he has natural speed,” he said. “Also, if Keeneland plays the way it had been (in the spring), it has been favoring closers.”
Eibar Coa picks up the mount on Ready’s Image, who drew the outside post eight. Velazquez, who has ridden Ready’s Image in each of his five career starts, is riding The Roundhouse for Pletcher in the Breeders’ Futurity.
Majestic Warrior’s Hopeful win wasn’t a fluke. He looked like the real deal when he broke his maiden for trainer Bill Mott and owner George Steinbrenner early in the Saratoga meet. That race was a key one, with the runner-up and third-place finisher both coming back to win their next starts. The Champagne is Majestic Warrior’s third career start. What he lacks in seasoning he has made up for in perfection.
Garrett Gomez is named on Majestic Warrior, who drew the rail. Between Ready’s Image, Silver Edition, and Z Humor, there should be enough speed to play into the hands of Majestic Warrior’s closing kick.
Mott also sends out Zayat Stable’s Z Humor, who was a non-threatening third as the favorite in the Sept. 2 Sapling (gr. III) at Monmouth Park.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Lantana Mob is two-for-two at Monmouth, which bodes well should he proceed to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. His wins in the Tyro and Sapling were done with ease, and it just remains to be seen if he can stretch out.
Lantana Mob is a son of leading first-crop sire Posse, who was trained by Asmussen.