10/05/2006 11:00PM

Champagne Mile appears within Xchanger's range


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Mark Shuman enjoyed great success as a member of Eclipse Award-winning owner Michael Gill's vast operation. Shuman worked with a lot of nice horses owned by Gill when he captured 50 races to lead all trainers during the 2003 Monmouth Park season.

Gill has scaled back his operation. After peaking with 486 wins in 2004, Gill has only 16 wins this year.

Shuman, 36, is now out on his own, running a stable at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland.

The pace is less hectic and the rewards, while not as frequent, are more satisfying

"You keep building on what you've learned," said Shuman, a second-generation horseman. "It's definitely fun."

The fun might have just begun with the unbeaten Xchanger.

Shuman is pointing Xchanger to the Grade 1, $400,000 Champagne for 2-year-olds at Belmont Park on Oct. 14. The Champagne and the Grade 1 Frizette for fillies on the same day are the final New York preps for juveniles heading to the Breeders' Cup.

Xchanger has run twice, both at Monmouth. He was an easy maiden winner on Aug. 9 and followed with a hard-fought win in the Grade 3 Sapling Stakes on Sept. 4.

The Sapling was a bumpy affair as Xchanger collided with Actin Good in the lane on his way to a three-quarter-length victory.

"He was body sore for a couple of days after that race," Shuman said. "It probably took about two weeks to come around, but since then he's been coming out of his skin."

Xchanger will venture beyond six furlongs for the first time in the one-mile Champagne. Shuman has been preparing Xchanger for the longer assignment

"We've stretched him out with longer gallops and breezed him longer distances," Shuman said. "He has given every indication the mile definitely won't be a problem."

A one-mile race at Belmont covers only one turn, a mixed blessing for Shuman.

"You can look at it two ways," he said. "If you are prepping for the Breeders' Cup, you would prefer two turns. Coming from where we did, it will be better to go one turn."

The Breeders' Cup Juvenile is a possibility if Xchanger runs well

"He's got to prove himself," Shuman said. "We don't want to go there and embarrass ourselves. If he shows he belongs, we'll take the next step."

Joe Bravo, aboard for both wins, has the call for the Champagne.

"After he broke his maiden, Joe told me wherever I wanted to go, he wanted to ride," Shuman said. "Bravo came back both times and told me he had a ton of horse. Joe's confidence made it much easier for me to make the jump from the maiden race to the Sapling."

Calla Lilly set for stakes debut

Belmont will offer a holiday card Monday, topped by the $100,000 Pebbles Stables for 3-year-old fillies going one mile on the turf.

Calla Lily will makes her stakes debut following an solid rally from ninth to win first-level allowance at Belmont on Sept. 10.

"It was a good race," said trainer Tom Albertrani. "She's starting to mature and she's more comfortable. Last time, she settled fine and came through a seam."

Calla Lily is 2-1-0 in 5 grass starts after some mediocre races on the main track.

"We always thought highly of her early on," said Albertrani. "We were a little disappointed with her dirt races. It looks like she's starting to settle in her races. She was a little too much on the bridle. Her head was always up in the air. Now she's settled down and she has a good late kick."

According to Belmont stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes, other likely Pebbles runners include Better Now, Chaibia, Diamond Spirit, Quite a Bride, and Ready to Please.

After the holiday card, Belmont will be dark Tuesday and Wednesday.