Pletcher, Hall of Famers square off in G1 Foxwoods Champagne
By Jenny Kellner | 10/02/2013 04:40 PM ET
With four victories in the past nine editions of the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods Champagne, including two of the last three, trainer Todd Pletcher has been a dominant force in the most prestigious race for 2-year-olds at Belmont Park.
In Saturday's one-mile race, however, Pletcher will be confronted by a trio of Hall of Fame trainers in D. Wayne Lukas, Shug McGaughey and Nick Zito, who among them have won 10 runnings of the Champagne, a "Win and You're In" race leading to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
A field of nine was entered for the Foxwoods Champagne, with the Lukas-trained Strong Mandate the 5-2 morning-line favorite over McGaughey's Honor Code, 3-1, and Pletcher's Havana, 7-2.
Lukas, who first saddled a Champagne starter in 1984 when eventual Preakness winner Tank's Prospect finished third, will be bidding for a third victory with Strong Mandate, an eye-popping 9 ¾-length winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful on September 2 at Saratoga Race Course. Owned by William Mack and Robert Maker, who paid $200,000 for the Tiznow colt as a yearling, Strong Mandate was a non-threatening fifth in his debut at the Spa, and then led every call to break his maiden by 4 ½ lengths on August 17.
"The first one, we lead them over there, let them break, let them go around - even looking at him, you can see he's not a 5 ½-furlong horse," said Lukas. "When he broke his maiden, we put him in a situation that was more adaptable to him, and he responded. We had blinkers on him, which we knew we were going to do, and made our usual adjustments. He didn't disappoint us there, and he certainly even moved forward off that when he ran in the Hopeful. You don't see big horses like this accelerate like he did in the Hopeful, and so easily."
The colt has had three published workouts since the Hopeful, including a bullet four-furlong move in :47 2/5 on September 13 at Churchill Downs.
"He's just been more focused and stronger; he's going in the right direction," said Lukas. "He's had a great month since the Hopeful."
Lukas, who won the 1997 Champagne with Grand Slam and the 1994 running with eventual Preakness winner Timber Country, will give a leg up to jockey Jose Ortiz, who will pilot Strong Mandate from post position 7.
McGaughey went 3-for-3 in the Champagne in the 1980's, when he sent out winners Polish Navy (1986), Easy Goer (1988's Top 2-Year-Old Colt) and Adjudicating (1989). Saturday he will saddle Lane's End Racing's Honor Code, who came from 22 lengths behind to break his maiden in spectacular fashion over a sloppy track at Saratoga on August 31.
"It's a tall order going from a maiden to a Grade 1, but he's been doing very well," said McGaughey of the A.P. Indy colt, who breezed a half-mile in a sharp 47.99 seconds on Sunday at Belmont. "He's training well, everything is good, and we're excited about running him. We'll see what happens."
Javier Castellano, the leading rider in New York in 2013, will be aboard Honor Code when he leaves from post position 5.
Zito, who won five Champagnes, most recently with War Pass in 2007, sends out Richard Pell's Grand Arrival, who also broke his maiden at Saratoga on August 31. Third after a tardy start in his debut on July 22, the Harlan's Holiday colt went straight to the front and romped by 6 ¼ lengths in the slop.
Roise Napravnik returns aboard Grand Arrival, who drew post position 8 and was listed at 8-1 on the morning line.
Perhaps the most eye-catching debut at Saratoga this past season was made by the Pletcher-trained Havana, who earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his effortless 2 ¾-length victory on August 23, covering 5 ½ furlongs in 1:02.64. Pletcher doesn't feel the stretch out will pose a problem for the colt, for whom Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith paid $575,000 in March.
"In his training I've always felt like he finishes his works well and he gallops out strongly," said Pletcher of Havana. "He's not one these horses who seems desperate for the wire in any of his works or in his race, so there's only one way to find out for sure, and we like what we've seen."
Pletcher also has entered Starlight Racing's Intense Holiday, who broke his maiden at second asking on August 31 at Monmouth Park.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride Havana from post position 3, while Chris DeCarlo is named aboard Intense Holiday, 12-1 from post position 8.
A fourth Hall of Fame trainer will be represented in the Foxwoods Champagne by Long On Value, who in his first start for Bill Mott finished sixth behind Strong Mandate in the Hopeful. The loss was the first in four races for the Value Plus colt, who broke his maiden at Delaware Park and next won the Jamestown Stakes on the turf at Colonial Downs and the Strike Your Colors Stakes at Delaware.
Jose Lezcano will ride Long On Value, 10-1 on the morning line, from post position 6.
Completing the field, from the rail out, are Hopeful runner-up Casiguapo; Ride On Curlin, fourth in the Grade 3 Iroquois on September 7 at Churchill Downs last time out, and Debt Ceiling, who won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor in June at Churchill Downs and most recently took the restricted First State Dash Stakes at Delaware by five lengths.
The field for the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods Champagne: