09/27/2013 4:57PM

Belmont Park: Zito goes after another Champagne win

Barbara D. Livingston
Nick Zito won five runnings of the Champagne from 1998-2007. He saddles Grand Arrival next Saturday for this year’s running.

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ELMONT, N.Y. – He may be best known for his two victories in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, but it is the Grade 1 Champagne where trainer Nick Zito has had his most success.

Over a 10-year period from 1998-2007, Zito won five runnings of the Champagne with two third-place finishes. Next Saturday, Zito will try for another victory in the prestigious race for 2-year-olds at Belmont Park when he sends out the maiden winner Grand Arrival in the 143rd running of the $500,000 Champagne.

Grand Arrival, a son of Harlan’s Holiday, raced twice at Saratoga. He got off poorly and finished third behind Big Sugar Soda in a 5 1/2-furlong race July 22. He came back Aug. 31 and won a seven-furlong maiden race by 6 1/4 lengths in the slop. That victory was overshadowed because two races earlier on the card Honor Code rallied from 22 lengths back to win the other division of that maiden race, running a full second faster than Grand Arrival.

“Obviously, [Honor Code] ran very impressive, but sometimes they run as fast as they have to,” Zito said Friday from Saratoga. Speaking of Grand Arrival, Zito said, “He does have some class, and that’s one of the big factors for us to take a shot.”

[BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Win and You’re In schedule and results]

Zito, who planned to work Grand Arrival on Saturday at Saratoga, won the Champagne with The Groom Is Red (1998), Greenwood Lake (1999), A P Valentine (2000), Birdstone (2003), and War Pass (2007). War Pass went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Monmouth Park and be crowned 2-year-old champion.

The Champagne is a Win and You’re In race for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which will be run Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

“I’m not a West Coast guy, but if they put his number up I guess we’d have to go there,” said Zito, who trains Grand Arrival for Richard Pell.

Zito said Rosie Napravnik, aboard for Grand Arrival’s first two starts, will be here to ride. Napravnik won last year’s Champagne aboard Shanghai Bobby.

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Also pointing to the Champagne are Hopeful one-two finishers Strong Mandate and Casiguapo, Havana, Honor Code, Long On Value, and Debt Ceiling. Ride on Curlin is possible.