The start of October marks the official countdown to this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland the last weekend of the month. The biggest race in the two-day event is the $5 million Classic.
Turning to this Saturday’s race card for major stakes races, there are a pair Grade 1 events featuring some of the top two-year old thoroughbreds looking to mark an early mark on next year’s Triple Crown Trail. The following is a look at a few of my sport picks in each of these races.
Champagne Stakes- Belmont Park
The Champagne Stakes is a Grade 1 stakes for two-year old thoroughbreds contested on dirt over a distance of a mile. The total prize purse for this even is set at $500,000.
A field of nine horses are entered into this year’s race, but the one at the top of my list would be Ralis. This two-year old colt has already caught the attention of the horse racing world with a big win in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in early September. This followed a second-place run in the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 5. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Ralis has shown steady improvement since posting a disappointing fifth-place run in his first stakes race, the Summer Juvenile Championship at Los Alamitos.
Another horse to watch in Saturday’s Champagne is Magna Light. Trained by Rudy Rodriguez, this Kentucky bred two-year old started his stakes race career with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga on July 25 after winning a Maiden Special Weight race at Belmont in late June. His last time out, Magna Light ran second to Ralis in the Hopeful to set-up a very interesting rematch in this race.
Famed trainer Todd Pletcher’s entry into this year’s Champagne is Ready Dancer. Ridden by John Velazquez, this two-year old colt will be making his first career run in a major stakes race after finishing in the money in three-straight Maiden Special Weight races. It remains to be seen how well he will hold-up against a higher class of competition, but Ready Dancer remains a good prospect to work into the mix.
Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity- Keeneland Race Course
This year’s Breeders’ Futurity for two-year old thoroughbreds has a total prize purse of $500,000. It is also contested on dirt over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
Saturday’s race boasts a full field of 12 horses and Horse Racing Nation has already posted its early morning line. The juvenile at the top of the list as a 7/2 favorite is Exaggerator. Trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, he is coming off a huge victory in this year’s Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes on Aug. 16. This Kentucky bred two-year old colt is the pedigree of famed horse Curlin, who won both the Preakness Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic as a three-year old.
Another strong contender to win this year’s Breeders’ Futurity in my book would be Brody’s Cause at 6/1 sport odds on the morning line. Trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Corey Lanerie, this two-year old colt only has one race under his belt with a victory in a Maiden Special Weight race at Churchill Downs on Sept. 11, but I really like the way he looked in that win. Given his lack of stakes race experience this is a risk/reward pick; however I would still work him into my top three for Saturday’s races.
One horse to definitely watch in this year’s Breeders’ Futurity is Hawkbill. You might be stretching the odds a bit with this pick given he has opened at 8/1 at Pinnacle on the morning line, but I was highly impressed with his first-place run in the Nursery Handicap at England’s Kempton Park on Aug. 18. Trainer Charlie Appleby has this two-year old pointed in the right direction after his disappointing ninth-place run in the Maiden Stakes at another English course Newbury in his racing debut