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Union Rags Pops In Champagne

He was the colt to beat after his sizzling Saratoga Special (II) win in the slop. This time, Union Rags [pictured] had a dry track and he left nothing on it.

Cracking off to an early lead, it was Right to Vote and Power World to set the opening quarter mile in :22 3/5. In behind the leaders came Invocation on the rail with Union Rags hanging back as far as sixth place with Alpha hiding in the rear. Right to Vote separated from Power World around the half mile mark, making the half in :45 4/5, as the rest of the colts began to shift positions slightly. Union Rags began moving up to fifth as the back turn started to wane, but was stuck behind a wall of horses coming for home. Javier Castellano guided Union Rags in and out, weaving around horses, before setting him loose in the clear. By then, it was far too late for even the brilliant Alpha, who had an explosive late turn of foot. But it was Union Rags all the way, much the best and an obvious winner by 5 1/2 lengths in a very good 1:35 1/2 final time for the mile.

Alpha edged Right to Vote for second place. Union Rags earns himself a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I) with the big win.

After Javier Castellano wore his heart on his shoulder last time with this colt, calling him “unbelievable” and the best horse he ever rode (and he’s ridden some good ones like Ghostzapper and Stay Thirsty), then he showed us how easy he can win yet again. The fast sandy Belmont doesn’t bother him and neither does the champion-breaking slop at Saratoga— with Barbaro trainer Michael Matz on his side, could we be seeing next year’s Kentucky Derby champion? By the way he ran so easily, it definitely has a very good chance, but I’m currently waiting for him to face off against someone like Hansen before that happens. What was a bit of a sleeper juvenile division in the east came alive with Union Rags one rainy day in New York, and again when the sun was shining.

Battle in the Sandbox

The yearly battle of the babies at Ol’ Sandy is finally here!

The titlist race of the three-year-old colts— more so, in my opinion, than the grueling, too-late-in-the-year Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (I)— is the Champagne Stakes (I) at Belmont Park, a race that has been predicting future champions for decades. Established in 1867, it’s the oldest grade I race for juvenile colts in the country, with winners like Seattle Slew, Buckpasser, and Easy Goer capped off their two-year-old seasons with the Champagne. Then we have the equivalent for juvenile fillies in the Frizette (I), won in the past by Devil May Care, Shuvee, and Flanders.

Who makes the gate this time, with a free pass at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies to boot?

$300,000 Frizette Stakes (I) - 2-Year-Old Fillies. 1 mile on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday October 8 at 4:45pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) My Miss Aurelia - Corey Nakatani, Steve Asmussen - For sure one of the most talented fillies in the field, she’s 2-for-2 in her career so far hoping to keep stretching out in distance as her pedigree would suggest. This is her first time with Nakatani and as a young, apparently green horse in a rail slot, I’m a bit wary. But as she has proved in her Adriondack (II) win, she’s all class and guts.

2) Miss Netta - Rajiv Maragh, Kieran McLaughlin - A Street Sense filly out of a Dynaformer mare, this gal has some speed and poses a big threat coming fresh from a single start into this G1 field. McLaughlin’s another trainer I trust, but I feel plenty wary about Maragh guiding her home. I’m excited to death about this one but my gut is saying she’s got too much work to do already.

3) Stopshoppingmaria - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - Regarded as one of the quickest two-year-olds of the year (she nailed a 103 Beyer speed figure, 1 higher than that of Uncle Mo at this age), she was third in her debut under My Miss Aurelia’s vapor trail then came back to win a maiden special weight by nearly ten lengths with just a wave of the whip in her face. A very, very sharp filly who seeks to exact revenge here on My Miss Aurelia. She’ll need to beat a better field here to do it, but definitely has the precociousness to get the job done. 

4) Holiday Soiree - Edgar Prado, John Terranova - Daughter of Harlan’s Holiday gets Edgar Prado first time out here and broke her maiden in her prior start after two tries. She looks to still be on the improving end and probably needs more time by the sounds of it and what her pedigree says.

5) Spare Change [pictured] - Javier Castellano, Claude McGaughey - Gorgeous near-black daughter of Bernardini, she was a winner at 7 furlongs and came in second in her debut, both maiden special weights at Saratoga. This is a champion’s pedigree: her dad, obviously, and her dam Finder’s Fee was a multiple G1 winner. With Castellano in the irons, I have reason to root this one home first: cantered home in her last start, rallies for home, great horse.

6) Harbor Mist - Ryan Curatolo, Phillip Serpe - A precocious daughter of Rockport Harbor, this filly is 2-for-3 including one stakes. She upset a heavy Repole favorite in Victory Island in the Anne M. Clare Stakes, winning going away by nearly 3 lengths. However, I think she’s a bit too eager going after that lead to last a full mile with that kind of bravado.

$300,000 Champagne Stakes (I) - 2-Year-Olds. 1 mile on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, October 6 at 5:18pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) No Spin - Rajiv Maragh, Tim Ice - Battered back to fourth in his stakes debut, this Johannesburg colt has some talent, but has only managed to shine through once in his three starts when he won handily by 5 1/2 lengths. A rail spot in a big field worries me about a colt who doesn’t quite know what to do just yet. He was trapped on the rail before.

2) Speightscity - Corey Nakatani, Gary Contessa - A Speightstown out of a Quiet American mare, Speightscity proved to be the real deal and is a real threat here: he’s the only horse to have competed beyond the mile mark and he happened to win that race very easily. Castellano may have made an error leaping off this colt in favor of Union Rags, and he is seriously good enough for an upset. Watch your back— this one has some life to him!

3) Takes the Gold - John Velazquez, Rick Dutrow - Really nice Corinthian colt who has capped off his last Belmont start at a mile with a win. With Velazquez, Belmont experience, and that Corinthian speed, he has the tools here to launch a big upset. He’ll finish up front at worst.

4) Power World - Edgar Prado, Neil Howard - I like this Distorted Humor son enough to think he could have upset the Hopeful (I) where he came in fifth. He’s faced a lot of stiff competition so far and is looking for that big break, which I don’t think he’ll find here just yet.

5) Alpha - Alan Garcia, Kieran McLaughlin - One look at his maiden and you’ll realize why everyone is so high on this Bernardini colt. A homebred Godolphin entry, he broke his maiden on his first attempt and by 6 lengths over 7 furlongs. If anyone stands to outclass Union Rags, it’s Alpha. This colt’s got it and could very well win this just as handily as he did his maiden.

6) Union Rags - Javier Castellano, Michael Matz - Gorgeous Dixie Union colt who made a mockery of the Saratoga Special (II) to win by a mile (or so it seemed). Undefeated in 2 starts. Never deny a Matz two-year-old— you know they’re ready if he says they are, and this one showed it. He’s the one to beat here.

7) Right to Vote - Alex Solis, Eoin Harty - Managed to punch through his maiden on his second try over 6 furlongs at Belmont, and was second to Clip the Coupons in his debut at Saratoga. I love Eoin Harty’s training and this is an intriguing kind of horse to say the least. Could be a great horse next year when the juvenile stars fade out, but I’m not feeling him now. 

8) Invocation - David Cohen, John Kimmel - Nice dirt pedigree (Pulpit out of a Quiet American mare), but remains winless in two starts at Saratoga. He was well behind the sensational Alpha in a maiden special weight over 7 furlongs and came in third in his debut over 6 furlongs. I see him on the improving path at best; he adds blinkers to this race.

9) Laurie’s Rocket - Cornelio Velasquez, Dallas Stewart - A Bluegrass Cat colt, he struggled like the others in the Saratoga Special mud but managed a good fourth to stay strong. Broke his maiden his second try over 5 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga with a second place in his debut. Biggest longshot of the field, I don’t see him grabbing the added distance.

Currency Swap Cashes Inconclusive Win In Hopeful

A full field of ten colts were led to the gate of a swamp-like Saratoga dirt track on Monday, each hoping to lay claim to the storied Hopeful Stakes (I) championship. The race is among the biggest and most prestigious in the country, with many of its winners winding up as two-year-old champs and favorites heading onto the Triple Crown trail.

Like a rocket, 68-1 longshot Trinniberg fired out of the gate quickest of all, setting a hot 21 4/5 opening quarter for the 7 furlong Hopeful. Tracking him in the early stages were Vexor, Hunting Cross, and second favorite Currency Swap. Passing the half mile mark in 45 1/5, it became clear that the only two colts that could handle the mud were Trinniberg and Currency Swap as they abandoned the rest of the field on the far turn by about 4 lengths. Coming for home, Trinniberg and Currency Swap were left to duel, which the latter only grasped in the final strides to prevent a monumental upset. Favorite J C’s Pride was pulled up on account of disliking the track.

Winning by 3/4 length over a very soupy track, the Hopeful Stakes did not resemble the super race for juvenile colts it has become known for, with past winners including Boys at Tosconova, Afleet Alex, and greats like Secretariat and Affirmed. The muddy conditions proved to be too powerful for good colts like Power World, who could finish no better than fifth and way behind, suggesting this year’s running is too full of excuses to make any definitive claims about who the top two-year-old is. While the early fractions were hot over the off-track, the final furlong was run in a hair over 14 seconds as the two leaders rubber-legged it across the wire.

Thankfully, there’s still the fall which includes races like the Champagne and of course of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so we’ll just have to wait and see for a dry, fast track.

Overdriven Steers Clear in Sanford

Looks like Mike Repole has another good one on his hands.

Overdriven powered to an authorative win in today’s Sanford Stakes (II) for two-year-olds, taking the Saratoga classic by 4 lengths.

Off to a speedy start, the favorite and eventual winner sat behind the early speed Black Rhino, who ate up the first quarter in :22 and change. Jack’s in the Deck sat patiently at the caboose of the field with Power World hanging off third next to Moonrush behind the early leaders. However, it was all Overdriven when it came to down to the final furlong. Despite a late run from Power World moving expertly past a tiring Black Rhino, the bay son of Tale of the Cat had broken away and won easily. Jack’s in the Deck made a nice call coming in for third. The rest of the field grappled to finish the six-furlong event.

Owned by the same enthusiastic man as Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, Overdriven may not be as hyped by his trainer Todd Pletcher, but he sure said something about his abilities this afternoon by winning the first big classic for two-year-olds following a nice 100 Beyer speed figure from earlier. I honestly believe Power World and perhaps Jack’s in the Deck will polish off their performances for next time and in the long run, may best Overdriven.

Expect Team Repole to be rooting this one on in the Hopeful if all goes well.

Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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