Havana holds off competition Honor Code in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes. Photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese.
The jump from maiden race to graded stakes competition is a difficult challenge for 2-year-olds, but Havana aced the test on Saturday at Belmont Park in the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne Stakes.
The Dunkirk colt pressed early leader Debt Ceiling before taking control on the turn. He opened up a commanding 4 ½-length advantage early in the stretch and looked poised to coast to victory, but fast-closing Honor Code cut into his advantage with a powerfully late rally on the outside. Havana gamely held off his late challenger to prevail by a neck and remain unbeaten in two starts.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for owners Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith, Havana won his career debut by 2 3/4 lengths going 5 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 23 at Saratoga Race Course. The victory in the one-mile Champagne earned Havana a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 2 via the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge series.
“Anytime you go from 5 ½ [furlongs] to a mile and do it against the type of horses he was in with today, it's always a concern,” Pletcher said. “We did a similar thing with Uncle Mo, the difference being that was six [furlongs] to a mile. I think it takes a pretty special horse to do it. I'm proud of his efforts today.”
Pletcher said he expects Havana to go on to the Breeders’ Cup provided he comes out of the race happy and healthy. He said he thinks the Champagne was a good test of his ability.
“I can't imagine the horses we ran against today aren't going to be certainly some of the favorites for it,” Pletcher said. “I think there's room for improvement. I think he can move forward for his third start.”
Honor Code also has the look of a strong Breeders’ Cup Juvenile contender. One race after he charged from 22 lengths back to post one of the most visually impressive wins of the year, Honor Code employed the same tactics Saturday and came up just short.
“He was coming off a maiden win in the slop, and he had trained good,” said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who conditions Honor Code for Lane’s End Racing and breeder Dell Ridge Farm. “He wasn't 22 lengths out of it today; it was only 12 or 15. Having to go wide probably cost us the race, but Havana got the jump at the head of the stretch and opened up, and we were unlucky to not catch him.
“I thought it was an awfully big effort for a horse of his type who is just learning and is kind of lazy in the first part until you do ask him. I think once we get him going around two turns and maybe more races into him, he'll get a little more adaptive, into the race. I don't want to change his style of running if that's what he wants to do; I'm hoping he'll do it on his own.”
Strong Mandate, a dominant winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on Sept. 2, finished a nonthreatening seventh.
Undefeated Sweet Reason garnered nearly all of the headlines and prerace hype leading up to the $500,000 Frizette Stakes on Saturday at Belmont, but it was another lightly race, unbeaten filly that stole the spotlight.
ARTEMIS AGROTERA WINS GRADE 1 FRIZETTE STAKES
Photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Artemis Agrotera opened a clear lead in early stretch and safely held off a late bid from 1-to-4 favorite Sweet Reason for her second win in as many starts.
Trained by Mike Hushion for New York-based owners-breeders Chester and Mary Broman, Artemis Agrotera romped in her career debut on Aug. 16 at Saratoga, where she was 11 ¾ length better than the second-place finisher. She was not as dominant in the one-mile Frizette, but considering the steep step up in class from a maiden race to a Grade 1, Artemis Agrotera’s victory Saturday was quite impressive. The filly by Roman Ruler also cemented a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies via the “Win and You’re In” challenge series.
“We'll see what the next few days bring,” Hushion said of the Breeders’ Cup. “Hopefully, everything will be a ‘go.’ “
Canadian classic winner Up With the Birds proved he can also compete against the best turf horses in the U.S.
UP WITH THE BIRDS CAPTURES GRADE 1 JAMAICA HANDICAP
Photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese
The Stormy Atlantic colt closed from near the back of the pack to win the $500,000 Jamaica Handicap on Saturday under Cornelio Velasquez. He passed eight horses in the final three-eighths of a mile to defeat Secretariat Stakes winner Admiral Kitten by a half-length.
Trained by Malcolm Pierce for owner-breeder Sam-Son Farms, Up With the Birds won the Breeders’ Stakes impressively in his most recent start. The 1 ½-mile turf race is the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
“After he won the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, the owners all got together,” Pierce said. “This is a big step up from running against Canadian-breds in a Grade 1 in New York, but we said, ‘What the heck. Let's give it a try.’ He deserved this chance."
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