Havana (inside) pulls ahead to win Grade 1 Champagne Stakes on Oct. 5. (Photo courtesy of NYRA)
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2014 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Havana, winner of the Champagne Stakes on Oct. 5 at Belmont Park.
When 2-year-olds stretch out from sprints early in the season to longer races in the fall, the cream often rises to the top. Such was the case in the Champagne Stakes when Havana fended off game runner-up Honor Code to win by a neck in what was a career-best performance.
Gray or Roan Colt
Sire (Father): Dunkirk
Dam (Mother): Missy Turtle, by Kyle’s Our Man
Breeder: Harvey A. Clarke Racing Stable (Ky.)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Ability: Havana was a $575,000 purchase at this year’s Barretts March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training by an astute group of buyers – Coolmore principal John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, represented by Coolmore bloodstock agent Demi O’Byrne. Clearly he brought something to the table that his owners liked and he did not disappoint in his debut.
Havana charged right to the front and opened a clear lead en route to a 2 ¾-length victory in a 5 ½-furlong race on Aug. 23 at Saratoga Race Course. Trainer Todd Pletcher then challenged Havana in a stakes race for his second start.
In the one-mile Champagne Stakes, a prestigious Grade 1 race, the gray or roan colt again went right to the front and set a swift tempo. Havana drew away to a 4 ½-length lead early in the stretch and had just enough gas in the tank to hold off a late rally from race favorite Honor Code. The second betting choice in the Champagne, Havana jumped from an 89 Equibase Speed Figure in his debut to a 107 in the Champagne. He clearly is a colt who improved with added distance and who has serious talent. Can Havana duplicate the Champagne performance when going an extra sixteenth of a mile on four weeks rest in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile? Tune in on Nov. 2 to find out.
HAVANA OVERPOWERS HONOR CODE IN 2013 CHAMPAGNE STAKES
Photo courtesy of NYRA
Running style: Havana looks like a colt who really wants the lead and often, especially early in a horse’s career, it’s best to just let horses do what they do best. Speed is Havana’s weapon and it’s a weapon with a recent-history of success in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Since War Pass led from start to finish in 2007, the Juvenile winner was either first or second at every point of call every year except for 2009.
Down the road in his career, it might be beneficial to see if Havana can rate just off the pace and still perform to the best of his ability. He probably will need to do so to succeed in the 2014 Triple Crown races.
Connections: John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith represent the powerful international Coolmore breeding and racing operation that has been a dominant force in 3-year-old classic races in Europe, and especially in Ireland, for decades. Tabor won the Kentucky Derby with Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Tabor and Smith raced 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches in partnership.
Five-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher won his first classic in 2007 when Rags to Riches became the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes since Tanya in 1905. Pletcher secured his first win in the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver in 2010. Pletcher also has won two of the last three editions of the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile (Uncle Mo, 2010; Shanghai Bobby, 2012). In fact, four of his seven Breeders’ Cup wins came with 2-year-olds.
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Pedigree: Havana is from the first crop of 2009 Belmont Stakes runner-up Dunkirk, a son of Unbridled’s Song who raced only five times in his career but showed flashes of brilliance. Dunkirk also finished second in the Florida Derby that year, showing he could carry his speed a distance. That should help Havana as his races get longer this year and next, especially since he does not get much stamina from his female family.
Havana’s dam, Missy Turtle, is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to a pair of stakes-winning sprinters. Missy Turtle won four times in 26 starts and finished fourth in her only attempt in a stakes race.
Neither of Havana’s first two dams (mother and maternal grandmother) won a race longer than 6 ½ furlongs and going deeper into his pedigree his third and fourth dams (maternal great grandmother and great-great grandmother) were unraced.
In short, Havana’s family is largely devoid of stamina influences through the first four generations.