01/08/2014 1:18PM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Havana

photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

It has become a rite of summer for trainer Todd Pletcher to showcase the cream of his talented 2-year-old crop at Saratoga. In recent years, subsequent Grade 1 winners Uncle Mo, Palace Malice, and Violence all won maiden races at Saratoga.

In 2013, a year in which Pletcher won 16 races restricted to 2-year-olds, Havana proved to be the fastest and most impressive. After narrowly missing a track record in his debut, Havana would go on to win the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park and finish second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. It's a résumé that earned Havana a spot as a finalist for the champion 2-year-old male. If he were to win, Havana would join Uncle Mo (2010), and Shanghai Bobby (2012) as recent juvenile champions trained by Pletcher.

"He had a big year, accomplished a lot in three starts, almost pulled off the Breeders' Cup," Pletcher said.

Havana, a son of Dunkirk out of the Kyle's Our Man mare Missy Turtle, was purchased for $575,000 by Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith at the Barretts 2-year-olds-in-training auction in March 2013. The speed he showed when working an eighth of a mile in 9.60 seconds at the breeze show for that auction was evident in his subsequent workouts and his first race.

Havana was no secret when he debuted on Aug. 23 at Saratoga, sent off at 2-5 odds against seven rivals. Pressed harder than expected by Kendall's Boy, Havana scored a 2 3/4-length victory. His time of 1:02.64 for 5 1/2 furlongs was just .13 of a second off the Saratoga track record. His 102 Beyer Speed Figure was the highest recorded by any 2-year-old male on the dirt in 2013 and surpassed only by Shared Belief's 106 in the CashCall Futurity over Betfair Hollywood Park's synthetic surface.

Immediately after his maiden win, Pletcher selected the Grade  1 Champagne as his target, the same script Pletcher followed with Uncle Mo. Despite his fast win at odds-on in his debut, Havana was second choice in the Champagne behind Honor Code, a flashy maiden winner at Saratoga eight days after Havana.

In the Champagne, Havana pressed the quick early pace established by Debt Ceiling, then inherited the lead at the five-sixteenths pole when Debt Ceiling hit the wall and retreated. Despite his tail swishing from every stroke of jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.'s whip, Havana still held off the hard-charging Honor Code to win the Champagne by a neck.

"He didn't look like he loved being hit. He swished his tail a few times," Pletcher said. "It was kind of a strange race in that he was chasing a horse and that horse fell off so quickly at the five-sixteenths pole and all of a sudden he was four lengths in front. It was getting close at the end. At the same time I never really felt like he was going to get beat."

In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, Havana was sent off the 5-2 favorite in a field of 13. John Velazquez, aboard for Havana's debut win, was named to ride, but was injured earlier in the day. Jockey Gary Stevens picked up the mount and was instructed not to hit Havana with the whip.

After stalking the early pace from fifth, Havana made the lead at the top of the stretch. With Stevens trying to hand-ride him to the wire, Havana finished second behind the late-running New Year's Day.

"This is a serious horse," Stevens said afterward.

Havana is based at the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida and he could make his seasonal debut in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 22.