The Champagne Stakes (G1) and the Breeders’ Futurity (G1)

Two grade 1 races for 2YO routing this week, with an additional caveat. Both are part of a cross-country P4 with cooperation between Belmont and Keeneland.  The other 2 races are the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile and the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. So, that’s a Pick 4 with 4 G1’s — not something you see every day.  We’ll focus here, as we usually do, on the 2YO races — the Breeders’ Cup is tantalizing close, but I encourage everyone to take a look at the full sequence.

Champagne Stakes, 4:13 ET (2:13 MT) 

The Champagne Stakes is run on the dirt at a one-turn mile, so the dynamics are a bit different than the 2-turn route. We’ll hear more about this in the future as the winner (and close finishers) try two turns. This is an extremely wide open race, with many horses attempting the mile for the first time. Good Magic, a $1million son of Curlin, finished a strong second (as the favorite) in his fast debut at 6.5 furlongs. Another fast maiden is Bahamian, a Reddam/Callahan trainee, who hasn’t been favored in his two losses, but still performed strong, especially in his second start. A winner to take note of is Aveenu Malcainu, who has been beating up NY-breds sprinters on his way to a perfect record. Yes, it’s a step-up, but it’s not unheard for a NY-bred to compete among the best, if not be the best, in the country.  Honorable Treasure had a dominant win at 7f, in a race that was taken off the turf. You always need to consider that the field in this affairs are a bit weaker than those carded and run on the dirt. Hazit is another strong maiden winner for the Pletcher-barn.  But I’m going to recommend the horse on the way outside — Firenze Fire. He’s built toward this and done so against the top competition — winning the Sanford and finishing about 4 lengths back in the Hopeful (on a good track). He has a more than capable connections with Servis and Irad Ortiz.

Breeders’ Futurity, 5:10 ET (3:10 MT)

Here, we have 2YO going 1/16 miles on the main track at Keeneland. Keeneland brought their races back to the Kentucky Derby Trail with the reinstallation of dirt a few years back, and it’s great to see. This is a deeper race than the Champagne, with some winners at route distances and some gaudier speed figures. But, if you are looking for a price, there are plenty of maiden winners who could move it to the next level.  Of note, Javier Castellano takes the mount on Ezmosh for Brad Cox, who broke his maiden at a mile at Churchill Downs. You always need to know where Javier is — he’s the best jockey in the US. Ten City has already routed and has faced solid competition all year. But it’s tough to win a 4.5f in April and then routing in the fall. But, in this race, I’m looking at the 2 horses that came out of the Hopeful (along with my pick in the Champagne) — Givemeaminit and Free Drop BillyThe competition from that race easily beats out many of the maiden races that the rest of the field has faced, and I’ll take both of them in a P4.

Good luck playing the races!

Image: Dan H, 2012

Kentucky Derby Contender Profile: Carpe Diem

Let’s continue with our video review of top 2015 Kentucky Derby contenders with Carpe Diem, who has been targeting this race since being purchased for $1.6 million as a 2YO.

Breeders’ Futurity

After debuting with an impressive win over future Swale winner Ready for Rye at 5.5 furlongs, hopes were high for Carpe Diem’s first attempt at a route of ground. He was the 5/2 favorite against a decent field on Keeneland’s new dirt track.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

With the scratch of American Pharoah, Carpe Diem went off favored in the Juvenile. A wide trip, but an impressive rally. Still a very clear second to Texas Red, but race watchers almost universally came away impressed with Carpe Diem’s efffort in the stretch.

Tampa Bay Derby

Carpe Diem returned from his winter layoff with a sharp performance in the Tampa Bay Derby. At even money, he again showed that he had more in the stretch and won easily. His stock was extremely high after this performance. Eventual Lexington winner Divining Rod finished third.

Blue Grass Stakes

A return to Keeneland and another strong performance from Carpe Diem. On paper, Carpe Diem dominated over the field on paper. Danzig Moon improved on track to prevent the blowout.  Race watchers were mixed with their reviews; some wanted to see a strong distancing in the stretch, but others were pleased with the stamina building for Louisville.

Carpe Diem is a extremely well-bred horse who has been destined for the Derby for a while. He possesses the talent to win the Derby, and his pressing style will give him first run on fading frontrunners at Churchill. He’ll need to move forward just a bit — and of course work out a trip in the Derby (easier said than done) — but very well could take the roses home come Saturday.