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Havana holds off Honor Code to win G1 Foxwoods Champagne

By Jenny Kellner | 10/05/2013 07:42 PM ET
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

Havana took the lead midway on the far turn and held off a furious late rally from favored Honor Code on Saturday to win the 142nd running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods Champagne at Belmont Park by a desperate neck.
Ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., the 2-year-old son of Dunkirk broke alertly and hugged the rail to shadow Debt Ceiling through an opening quarter-mile in 22.87 seconds and a half in 45.54. With the pacesetter beginning to tire, Havana found himself on the lead, hitting the quarter pole 2 ½ lengths in front just as Honor Code and Ride On Curlin were launching their bids from the back of the pack. As his pursuers went wide into the stretch, Havana opened up by 4 ½ lengths and dug in through the final yards to claim his second straight victory.
"He got a little tired at the end, but he was still running," said Ortiz, subbing for Havana's regular jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who was out of town. "He was perfect all the way. Thanks to the regular jockey, John Velazquez. He told me how to ride the horse, and it worked out."
Havana, who broke his maiden going 5 ½ furlongs on August 23 at Saratoga Race Course, completed the mile in 1:35.81.
"Anytime you go from 5 ½ to a mile and do it against the type of horses he was in with today, it's always a concern," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has now saddled five winners of the Foxwoods Champagne. "We did a similar thing with Uncle Mo [in the 2010 Champagne], 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 effort today. We knew we were asking him a lot, but we were doing it because we liked him a lot."
Honor Code, who like Havana was making the second start of his career, was 1 ½ lengths clear of third-place finisher Ride On Curlin.
"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," said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey of Honor Code. "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."
Sent off as the 5-2 second choice, Havana returned $7.20 for a $2 win bet and earned $300,000 for owners Michael Tabor, John Mangier and Derrick Smith, who purchased him for $575,000.
As part of the "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge Series, the Foxwoods Champagne victory earned Havana an all-fees paid entry to the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November at Santa Anita.
"I think there's room for improvement," said Pletcher. "I think he can move forward for his third start."
Likely to join Havana in the Juvenile is Grade 1 Hopeful winner Strong Mandate, who finished a non-threatening seventh as the second choice in the field of nine.
"Oh yeah. Definitely," said Strong Mandate's Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas of a start in the Breeders' Cup. "[Jockey Jose Ortiz] thought he wasn't getting around the track as well as he did at Saratoga."
Honor Code, whose maiden victory at Saratoga came from 22 lengths back, may skip the trip to California, said McGaughey.
"You'd always like to go to the Breeders' Cup, but he's a young horse and it'd be only his third start," he said. "He'd have to ship to do it. Would the Remsen [Grade 2, 1 1/8 miles, November 30] be the better spot for him at Aqueduct in his learning process? Obviously, next spring would be our main objective. Whatever [owners Lane's End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm] want to do is going to be fine with me."
Finishing fourth, 6 ¾ lengths behind Ride On Curlin, was Casiguapo. Following him under the wire were Intense Holiday, Long On Value, Strong Mandate, Grand Arrival and Debt Ceiling.