Rogues and Royals Among Champagne Challengers

Rogues and Royals Among Champagne Challengers
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Chapel Royal, heads field for Champagne Stakes.
Edited from a release
Chapel Royal, the East's leading 2-year-old throughout the spring and early summer, will be out to prove he is more than a sprinter in Saturday's grade I, $500,000 Champagne at 1 1/16 miles.

The 132nd Champagne is one of four graded stakes on a 10-race card, that also includes the grade I Beldame, the grade I Frizette and the grade II Kelso Breeders' Cup.

The Champagne will be televised live on CNBC. The one-hour telecast begins at 3:30 p.m. (ET). Meanwhile, the Beldame will be televised live on NBC. Its 90-minute telecast begins at 4:30 p.m. (ET).

The Champagne drew a field of eight led by Chapel Royal, Read the Footnotes and Birdstone. Chapel Royal breaks from the outside under jockey John Velazquez.

From the moment he was purchased out of a February 2-year-old training sale for $1.2 million, a buzz has surrounded Chapel Royal. So far, he's lived up to the hype, that is, in sprint races.

A son of Montbrook and the Cutlass mare Cut Class Leanne, Chapel Royal was dominant in his first three races, winning his maiden, the Flash (gr. III) and Sanford (gr. II) Stakes by more than 20 lengths combined, while adapting to a couple of different pace scenarios.

After three blowout scores, however, Chapel Royal finally met his match in Saratoga's grade I Hopeful. The 3-5 favorite, he finished second behind Silver Wagon after racing four wide around the far turn and through the stretch. Was it the Hopeful's seven-furlong distance that tripped up the sprint-bred Chapel Royal, or was he beaten by a top horse in Silver Wagon? The Champagne should provide some answers.

"He didn't get an ideal trip in the Hopeful," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who is a major player in this weekend's 2-year-old stakes at Belmont Park and Keeneland. "I liked the post, but he banged the gate at the start and raced four wide. That being said, those are just circumstances and he didn't produce the run from the eighth pole to the wire like I thought he would. He's trained well since the race."

A good effort from Chapel Royal in the Champagne would most likely earn the colt a trip to the October 25th Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), but a loss could suggest he is best suited to shorter races for the time being. Pletcher, however, has yet to look beyond Saturday.

"Obviously, at this time of the year every race depends on what you're doing next," he said. "I haven't looked beyond the Champagne."

Read the Footnotes, another flashy and high-priced purchase, puts his undefeated record on the line in the Champagne for trainer Richard Violette Jr. A son of sprint champion Smoke Glacken, Read the Footnotes was purchased out of the Eastern Atlantic sale in May for $320,000.

"Everyone knew how freaky fast he was," Violette said. "He had a lot of presence about him. He's everything you'd want in a racehorse."

Read the Footnotes demolished a field of New York-bred maidens in his career debut at Saratoga, winning by more than nine lengths on August 17th. Three weeks later, he bested open company horses as the 2-5 favorite in an entry-level allowance at Belmont. But unlike his debut where he simply led from start to finish, Read the Footnotes settled behind horses in that allowance, waited until he was asked for run, and blew by Adage and Artie Schiller for the win.

"That was the intent," said Violette of the change in tactics for that allowance race. "I said to (jockey) Jerry Bailey before the race 'you know, we're going to be 2-5 and we're probably going to tick a few people off, but I want to teach him something.' It worked out terrific. Jerry got him into position, turned off the throttle and the colt ran when he was supposed to. It was a very good race."

Jockey Jose Santos has picked up the mount on Read the Footnotes because Bailey was scheduled to ride Silver Wagon, who was withdrawn from the race after getting sick.

Trainer Nick Zito won the Champagne three straight years from 1998 to 2000 and will saddle Birdstone on Saturday for owner Marylou Whitney. Birdstone earned an exceptionally fast speed figure in his debut win at Saratoga on August 2nd and ran well to finish fourth in the Hopeful. Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, who has won the Champagne twice, has the mount.

The $500,000 Champagne Stakes is open to 2-year-olds; all will carry 122 pounds. The race is the seventh on Belmont Park's Oct. 4 card.

Post position, horse, jockey, trainer
1--Notorious Rogue, Corey Nakatani, Mark Hennig
2--Paddington, Ramon Dominguez, Michael Dickinson
3--Motivus, Mike Luzzi, Christophe Clement
4--Birdstone, Jerry Bailey, Nick Zito
5--Midnight Express, Victor Carrero, Glenn Thompson
6--Dashboard Drummer, Jose Espinoza, Allen Iwinski
7--Read The Footnotes, Jose Santos, Richard Violette Jr.
8--Chapel Royal, John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher

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