First Samurai, Henny Hughes Square Off in Champagne

Top juveniles First Samurai and Henny Hughes will go at it again, this time in Saturday's $500,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at a mile at Belmont Park against six others.

Henny Hughes was the leading 2-year-old heading into Saratoga's Hopeful Stakes (gr. I). Sent off the 3-5 favorite by virtue of his 3-for-3 record and a win in the Saratoga Special (gr. II), the colt was flat in the Hopeful, managing to iron out the place spot while no match for First Samurai.

Now, First Samurai is a perfect 3-for-3, and his win in the Hopeful vaulted him to the top of the 2-year-old class on the East Coast.

Although First Samurai has won all of his starts in handy fashion, he still needs to improve his mental game. He colt lugged in through the stretch run of both his starts at Saratoga.

"I think he is just a very green, immature colt," said trainer Frank Brothers, who will also have Laity running in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland the same day. "Actually, in his first three races he has done a couple little quirky things. Hopefully, I think as he goes down the line, he will learn his lesson and run straight."

First Samurai got to work over the Belmont oval Saturday when he drilled five furlongs in :58 2/5 with Jerry Bailey up. "We gave him the chance to lug in, and he never thought about it," Brothers said. "We put him behind two horses and brought him around. It took him a little bit to get by them, he had his chance to (lug in) but he didn't do it."

With juveniles able to improve quickly, Brothers knows there is little room for error in the coming month. "My biggest concern is that he races a little more professional than he has been because if he doesn't, he is going to be in trouble," he said. "You just can't do those things and win big races."

Brothers and his staff have used a ring bit on First Samurai some mornings to prevent him from lugging in, but Brothers said, "I would like to think it is in his mind and he is learning."

The fact that First Samurai is still green and learning, combined with his easy victories, makes one wonder how good he will be when he straightens himself out.

In the Hopeful, Henny Hughes did not seem to be the same explosive horse he was in the Saratoga Special and Tremont, winning the latter by 15 lengths. Trainer Patrick Biancone said he did not find anything wrong with the colt after his second-place Hopeful finish.

"On the day, First Samurai was better than us," Biancone said. "He just ran faster than we did."

Certainly Henny Hughes has been doing everything right in the mornings. Following the Aug. 27 Hopeful, the chestnut colt has worked four bullets on the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga. On Tuesday, he blazed a half-mile in :47 1/5, breezing, the best of 31 moves at the distance.

"He's trained very well since the Hopeful," Biancone said. "We've started to press on him a little bit now. I'm very happy with him."

Too Much Bling set the pace in the Hopeful and finished third, managing to stay on well against the top two. Trainer Bob Baffert has left the horse in New York with John and Tonja Terranova.

Superfly boasts a victory at a mile in the Whirling Ash Stakes at Delaware Park in his last start. The only others who have won at a mile are Kid Lemonade and Menacing, both trained by Tim Ritchey.

Champagne Stakes (gr. I) 122 pounds
Post Time: 5:25 Race 9

Post Horse Jockey
1 Kid Lemonade Robby Albarado
2 Menacing Jeremy Rose
3 Too Much Bling Javier Castellano
4 Superfly Eibar Coa
5 Greater Fool Shaun Bridgmohan
6 Henny Hughes Gary L. Stevens
7 First Samurai Jerry D. Bailey
8 Deputy Glitters John R. Velazquez