In just his second career start, the Chad Brown-trained Jack Christopher overcame a talented quintet of 2-year-olds and ran away with the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne on an action-packed Saturday at Belmont Park, making his bid to be named the nation’s top juvenile.
With his win in the 150th renewal of the storied Champagne, a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Jack Christopher stamped his ticket to the year-end championship event to be held on November 5 at Del Mar for an ownership conglomerate of Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant.
A serious buzz horse at Saratoga Race Course over the summer, Jack Christopher proved worthy of the reputation he had developed in the mornings at the Spa, storming home to take his debut on the Travers undercard by 8 ¾ lengths as the even-money favorite on August 28.
The racing world eagerly anticipated what the son of Munnings would do for an encore after such a promising unveiling, and his connections pulled no punches entering him in a small but contentious edition of the Champagne.
“He was a horse that identified himself as early on as his first work,” said Brown, who won the Champagne in 2016 with Practical Joke and 2018 with Complexity. “I was on the phone with the connections saying, ‘This is potentially a really good horse. I can’t believe what I just saw.’ He’s just been brilliant in every work. There was some buzz around him before he ran, and he lived up to it.”
Breaking from post 3 with Jose Ortiz in the irons, Jack Christopher got away cleanly and was taken back a bit and shifted to the outside as Grade 1 Hopeful-winner Gunite emerged on top from a three-ply early battle for the lead. With Jack Christopher and Ortiz content to sit in second, Gunite led a somewhat strung-out field down the backstretch through splits of 23.57 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.49 for the half on the fast main track.
As the field hit the turn, Jack Christopher ratcheted up the pressure on Gunite and the top two spurted away from the rest of the pack going three-quarters in 1:11.15, but it wasn’t long thereafter that Jack Christopher put away Gunite for good and bounded for home with a decisive advantage.
With no pursuer in the vicinity, Jack Christopher and Ortiz were able to keep it on cruise control for most of the stretch as the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Commandperformance and Wit made belated but ultimately non-threatening runs, though the former was able to cut into the margin at the finish. On the wire Jack Christopher prevailed by 2 ¾ lengths, stopping the clock for the one-mile distance in 1:37.31.
“Jose had a feeling that running first time in blinkers he would do something to try and get involved and he was right,” said Brown. “A very quick decision he made – which was the right one – was to slip out to the outside right away and I think, from there, I felt super confident that we would get there with no excuse and he showed up.
“I’m just so appreciative to have the horse and have another opportunity with another good dirt horse like this in our barn,” the trainer added. “It’s our third Champagne win and I’m proud of my team. When we have these kind of horses, we can surely get the job done. Here’s another horse that’s well on his way to a big career and probably a stallion career someday.”
A $135,000 purchase as a yearling at Keeneland, Jack Christopher returned $5.40 on a $2 win wager as the 8-5 favorite. He in turn bumped his bankroll to $330,000 with the winner’s share of the purse of $275,000.
The longest price of Pletcher’s three entrants, Commandperformance was clearly second best in the Champagne, finishing seven lengths to the good of his stablemate Wit in third, who himself finished four lengths ahead of the last of the Pletcher triumvirate, My Prankster. In addition to displaying a strong closing kick, the effort of Commandperformance is particularly noteworthy considering he was a maiden entering the race. Gunite and longshot Kavod completed the order of finish.
“The horse put himself in a great spot” said Tyler Gaffalione, rider aboard runner-up Commandperformance. “I had a great position going down the backside. I was able to see everybody in front of me. Going around the turn, I started to get him into gear and he kept responding. His gallop out was great. He seems like he’ll love the distance going forward.”
Live racing returns Sunday at Belmont Park with a 10-race card featuring the Grade 1, $400,000 Frizette [Race 9], a one-turn mile for 2-year-old fillies offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies; the Grade 2, $200,000 Pilgrim [Race 4], a 1 1/16-mile turf test for juveniles; and the Grade 3, $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Waya [Race 8], an 11-furlong inner turf test for fillies and mares. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the fall meet at Belmont Park on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Belmont Park, and the best way to bet every race of the fall meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
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Belmont Park Press Release
Photo: Jack Christopher, (SR Photo)