10/20/2017 6:30PM

2018 Kentucky Derby: Champagne analysis

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Barbara D. Livingston
Firenze Fire (#12) earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 for his victory in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.

Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne Stakes, one mile, Belmont Park, Oct. 7, 2017
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Firenze Fire, by Poseidon’s Warrior
Trainer: Jason Servis
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Owner: Mr. Amore Stable
Beyer Speed Figure: 90

The Champagne winner often is a legit Kentucky Derby contender, or a brilliant, late-running sprinter, and my initial suspicion is that FIRENZE FIRE, like last year’s winner, Practical Joke, is going to be best as a one-run, one-turn horse. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but his pedigree and running style indicate that’s where he will do best.

This race was made to order, with a hot pace into which he was able to effectively rally. Firenze Fire broke sharply but was outrun early as the leaders sped through a torrid early pace. He was in front of just two horses halfway through the race, but commenced a solid rally four paths wide on the far turn, dropped in briefly to save some ground before being tipped to the five path coming into the stretch, advanced to the lead a furlong out, and prevailed over GOOD MAGIC while never switching leads through the lane. The Beyer figure was a career best.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

Good Magic, who finished second, has far more upside going forward, I believe. This was only his second start, and, being by Curlin, he only figures to improve with age and distance. He initially was just behind a cluster of horses vying for the lead, had to check slightly nearing the far turn, sat in traffic between and behind runners early on the far turn, was asked aggressively to go after the leaders nearing the quarter pole, came into the lane four paths wide, grabbed the lead but was immediately engaged by Firenze Fire, and only was bested late while well clear of everyone else. He’s one to watch for sure.

ENTICED, who was third, had good speed leaving the gate and was just behind and inside of AVEENU MALCAINU down the backstretch. He was rated nearing the far turn to sit inside just behind dueling leaders, was almost even with Good Magic midway on the turn, couldn’t keep pace with him entering the lane, had to check slightly in upper stretch, and kept to his task. He was no match for the top two, but this was only his second start and he showed some maturity here that can serve him well down the line. He also did best when he got off the rail in a race that had a distinct outside flow.

KOWBOY KARMA, who was fourth, took an awkward step a stride out of the gate and lost position, was angled off the rail down the backstretch and wound up four paths wide around the far turn, was hot on the heels of Good Magic midway on the turn, could not go with Good Magic, but stayed pretty much on even terms with Enticed the rest of the way but was out-finished by Enticed late.

HAZIT, who was fifth, was widest of a scrum of horses vying for the early lead, pressed the pace while three paths wide on the far turn, was asked for his best entering the lane, was outrun in upper stretch,but did come on again in deep stretch to pass a couple of rivals who had gotten the best of him in upper stretch. Perhaps he needs blinkers? He also has a pedigree that suggests turf is in his future if he doesn’t progress on dirt. But considering this was only his second start, he deserves more chances on the main track over the winter and into the spring.

HONORABLE TREASURE, who was sixth, was part of the large group of horses who were on or near the hot early pace, raced between Aveenu Malcainu and Hazit on the far turn, could not keep up with Firenze Fire nor Good Magic in upper stretch, then tired late from his early efforts.

Aveenu Malcainu, who was seventh, was fastest of all during the opening furlongs and set the rapid early pace, led narrowly around the far turn while along the rail, but gradually weakened through the lane. He had stalked and pounced in his first two starts, and that seems a better approach than what was employed here. He didn’t have a prayer the way this race unfolded.

FULL OF RUN, who was eighth, was outrun early and then took a few awkward steps as though the spray of dirt was disagreeable, raced well back while inside into the far turn, split horses entering the lane, and made up some ground late.

BAHAMIAN, who was ninth, broke very poorly and wound up far back down the backstretch, rallied wide into the lane, was late to change leads and pretty much finished on his own courage, as the cause was lost early on. He was on or near the lead in his first two races at Del Mar, so the start here clearly hurt him. This race is a throw-out for him.

STRONGER, who finished 10th, raced midpack while inside down the backstretch, was shoved along aggressively more than three furlongs out, but had nothing to offer.

MASTER MANIPULATOR, who was 11th, checked briefly a furlong into the race while just outside Stronger, was in the second flight of horses just off the early leaders while four paths wide early on the far turn, began to yield midway on the turn, and steadily faded.

BLAME IT ON HONEY, who was last of 12, raced inside as part of the early battle for the lead, gave way without a fight beginning 4 1/2 furlongs out, and dropped back.