Marylou Whitney Stable's improving Birdstone put away favored Chapel Royal in the final furlong to comfortably capture the $500,000 Champagne (gr. I) for 2-year-olds at Belmont Park Saturday.
The victory gave trainer Nick Zito his fourth Champagne victory in six years. Zito won the race three straight years from 1998 to 2000.
Whitney announced that Birdstone was unlikely to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.
"I'm glad that Marylou (Whitney) took care of business," Zito told reporters. "She told Jan (Rushton, NYRA television analyst) that he is too young and that it would be different if he were a three-year-old. But he is just a little baby and he is not a great big horse. He's a late foal, and the Breeders Cup Juvenile comes up too soon. She said she loves the Breeders' Cup, but she wants to give him time and that's fine. This is probably his last race of the year. I want those phone calls in the spring. I want you guys (media) bugging the you-know-what out of me."
Ridden by Jerry Bailey, Birdstone rallied past Chapel Royal by 2 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:44 for the 1 1/16-mile test on a fast track. Dashboard Drummer was a non-threatening third.
A son of Grindstone and a half-brother to Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Bird Town, the Whitney homebred settled into a stalking position as Chapel Royal, ridden by John Velazquez, dueled with Read the Footnotes through a moderate opening quarter mile in :23 4/5 and the half in :48 1/5.
Birdstone rallied quickly up on the outside after Chapel Royal established command after running six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 and the two battled down the stretch until the winner took control with a furlong to go.
"He got a little aggressive, especially after that first quarter, because of the slow pace," Bailey said. "He's not used to running so slow. But I was happy that we were close up, that's where I wanted to be. I didn't want to let a horse like Chapel Royal get away and have to come and run him down. He was there when I asked him to run."
Chapel Royal was nearly seven lengths ahead of third-place finisher Dashboard Drummer.
"We thought he ran very well," said Chapel Royal's trainer, Todd Pletcher. "The fractions were reasonable. He dug in, fought hard and he was second-best, while well clear of the third horse. I don't know about the Breeders' Cup, I need to talk to his connections."
Paddington, Notorious Rouge, Read the Footnotes and Midnight Express trailed.
Zito also won the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. II) at Keeneland with Eurosilver for Monsour Fustok's Buckram Oak Farms earlier on Saturday.
"The Breeders' Cup is wonderful, but (Whitney) is right and I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Fustok, if he were to say `Wait,' too," Zito said. "These are breeders, and when you work for breeders, you have to listen. It would be different if I bought these horses. These are both homebreds and the breeders deserve a lot."
Fourth beaten by 6 1/2 lengths in the Hopeful (gr. I) at Saratoga Aug. 30, Birdstone hit the starting gate and raced greenly while five wide that day. In his debut Aug. 2 a the Spa, he was a 12 1/2-length maiden winner.
Chapel Royal finished second in the Hopeful as the 3-5 favorite.
Birdstone earned $300,000 for the win.
He paid $6.50, $3 and $2.90. Chapel Royal returned $2.80 and $2.60. Dashboard Drummer, ridden by Jose Espinoza, showed for $4.40.