ELMONT. N.Y. - With his first cross-country trip having turned out so well, Hopeful winner Ralis has returned to New York in hopes of a Grade 1 repeat when he faces a field of eight other 2-year-olds in the $500,000 Champagne on "Super Saturday" at Belmont Park.
A "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland, the one-mile Champagne will be contested for the 145th time as part of a stakes-laden card highlighted by the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Ralis, a Reddam Racing homebred son of Square Eddie, was 1-for-4 in his home state of California before trainer Doug O'Neill elected to ship him east for the seven-furlong Hopeful on September 7 at Saratoga Race Course. The result was an eye-catching 5 ¾-length victory that earned him a 93 Beyer Speed Figure, third-best among all 2-year-olds so far this year.
"He's a mature dude - he's never been a bad actor - and he shipped so well to Saratoga we're just trying to repeat that," said O'Neill. "We've always thought of him as being a special horse, but after you win a race like the Hopeful, folks around the barn have started looking at him in a brand-new light."
Javier Castellano, aboard for the Hopeful, has the return call on Ralis, the 3-1 favorite on the morning line. The duo will depart from post position 5.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, whose Uncle Vinny finished third behind Ralis in the Hopeful, will counter this time with Let's Go Stable's Ready Dancer. The steadily improving More Than Ready colt has started three times, finishing third, then second, and finally first when outfitted with blinkers going six furlongs on August 29 at Saratoga, for which he earned an 85 Beyer.
"Timing-wise, it seems like a good spot for him," said Pletcher, who will be shooting for his fourth straight Champagne victory and seventh overall. "His best race came last time with blinkers, and we thought a one-turn mile would suit him. It is a 'Win and You're In' race but we would love to win the Champagne on its own merits."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be in the irons when Ready Dancer, 5-1 on the morning line, leaves from post position 3.
Second choice on the morning line at 7-2 is Charles Fipke's Tale of S'avall, an impressive maiden winner first time out on August 29 at the Spa. Leaving from post position 9, the homebred Tale of Ekati colt worked his way up through the field and drew clear to win by two lengths in 1:10 2/5.
"He looked pretty good first time out and this is a chance to see what he's about," said trainer Barclay Tagg. "He was very professional and it looked like he'd been doing it his whole life."
Cornelio Velasquez will ride from post position 7.
Back to challenge Ralis will be Hopeful runner-up Magna Light, who was sent off as the favorite. Prior to that race, Magna Light crossed the finish line first in the Grade 3 Sanford but was disqualified and placed third. Jose Ortiz will ride Magna Light, 6-1 on the morning line, from the rail.
Rounding out the field are maiden winners Greenpointcrusader, Sail Ahoy and Rafting, along with Portfolio Manager, second in his lone start, and Sunny Ridge, who rebounded from an eighth-place finish in the Sanford to win the Sapling at Monmouth Park.
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