Champagne Stakes to Produce Early Kentucky Derby Favorite

Michael Dempsey@turfnsportFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has another Kentucky Derby contender.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has another Kentucky Derby contender.Rob Carr/Getty Images

It is just 209 days until the first Saturday of May, and it is never too early to start looking for the next winner of the Run for the Roses. The Kentucky Derby will be run on Saturday, May 3 at Churchill Downs. 

On Saturday, a field of nine two-year-olds will line up in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, and there are three colts that stand out as runners we could see under the Twin Spires next spring.

The Champagne is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race, with the winner earning an all-expenses paid trip and automatic starting spot in the field for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita on November 2.

Here are three promising colts to watch on Saturday in the Champagne:

Honor Code (3-1) was a good-looking maiden winner in his debut in the slop at Saratoga. The colt was outrun early, was more than 20 lengths behind and came up the rail to roll by the field, drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths.

The colt did it over a sloppy track that was kind to runners on or near the lead and slightly off the rail. The runner-up Misconnect came back to graduate in his next outing on September 28 at Belmont Park while the third-place finisher, Purple Sky, also graduated in his next start at Churchill Downs the same day.

The Shug McGaughey barn usually does not have them fully cranked first time out, and this colt should love the extra ground. He is by A.P. Indy out of the stakes winner Serena's Cat ($131,391) who has dropped one other foal to race, stakes winner Noble Tune ($492,222). The colt should get a good pace set up here as there is plenty of early speed signed up to go in the race.

Havana (7-2) took the field gate to wire to break his maiden in his debut at Saratoga and earned a 102 Beyer, the top number by a juvenile so far this year. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, unveiled plenty of talented two-year-olds at the Spa, and this guy was the best.

The runner-up in his win was Kendall's Boy, who came back to graduate in his next outing at Churchill Downs on September 13 and goes in Saturday's Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. The colt was a $575,000 purchase, the top-selling runner from Dunkirk, who stands for just $10,000.

Strong Mandate (5-2) broke his maiden in fast time in his second career start at 16-1 and then turned around and trounced the field in the Hopeful (G1) by nearly 10 lengths at 7-1 in his last outing.

This colt also should get better with extra ground. He is by Tiznow out of the stakes winner Clear Mandate ($1.08 million) who has dropped two other stakes winners, top earner Newfoundland ($677,534).

He has been working smartly at Churchill Downs since his last outing, and the Hall of Fame barn of D. Wayne Lukas has won five graded stakes since May, including the Travers (G1) and Preakness (G1).

Of the trio, Honor Code gets the call in the Champagne for the win, and did I mention his trainer won last year’s Run for the Roses with Orb?


Morning line odds from NYRA website.

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