10/03/2007 11:00PM

Champagne more than a match race

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - The Champagne may be billed as a showdown between Hopeful first- and second-place finishers Majestic Warrior and Ready's Image, but Saturday's Grade 1 race for juvenile colts at Belmont Park goes deeper than that.

Sure, Majestic Warrior will rule as the favorite off his last-to-first victory in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga, but this race may not set up as sweetly for him as that one did. Horses such as Anakim, Lantana Mob, Pyro, and War Pass add depth and talent to the eight-horse Champagne, run at one mile.

The Champagne tops a 10-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Frizette for juvenile fillies at one mile and the Grade 2 Jamaica for 3-year-olds on the turf at 1 1/8 miles. The Champagne is part of the "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge, meaning the winner earns an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park. Champagne winners are only 2 for 17 in the Juvenile, with Timber Country (1994) the last to pull off the double.

While most of the runners in the Champagne are stretching out to one mile for the first time, Anakim has already won at the distance, in a maiden race here on Sept. 8.

In that race, Anakim broke well before being reined by Garrett Gomez. He settled into fifth position behind fractions of 22.29 seconds and 45.43, made a four-wide move around the turn, then ran away from favored Cool Coal Man in the stretch to win by three lengths. Anakim ran a mile in 1:35.63, getting a final quarter in 24.86 seconds.

"I think he's been wanting to run long the whole time," said John Kimmel, trainer of Anakim. "As soon as we got his running style changed around, you could see how much better he was."

Kimmel said jockey Ramon Dominguez made a tactical error by engaging the speed horses in Anakim's second race, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race won by Majestic Warrior. In Anakim's debut, he ran second to Tale of Ekati, who last month won the Grade 2 Futurity.

While Anakim figures to be a square price, Majestic Warrior figures to go off a solid favorite from the rail under Gomez. Though he had great setups in both of his races, Majestic Warrior had the talent to take advantage of them, winning his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths and the Hopeful by 2 1/4.

In the Hopeful, Ready's Image went after the speedy Maimonides early and they helped set up Majestic Warrior's rally from 11 lengths back.

"I'm sure Ready's Image was keeping Maimonides in view the other day, and it made for a good pace," said Bill Mott, trainer of Majestic Warrior. "But I don't know that they'll be walking in this race, either."

Ready's Image and War Pass, who is unbeaten in two starts, look to be the two horses with the most early speed.

Nick Zito, a four-time Champagne winner, said he expects War Pass to "show more speed going a mile." War Pass breaks from post 4 under Cornelio Velasquez.

In winning a first-level allowance race at Saratoga, War Pass displayed a little bit of immaturity in the stretch, but Zito said that was more due to what Velasquez did than to the horse himself.

"Cornelio told me he thought the inside was too deep, so he took him out and the horse didn't know what to do," Zito said. "The most impressive thing to me was he showed good acceleration in the end."

Ready's Image, a son of More Than Ready, won the Tremont here and the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga. Trainer Todd Pletcher said that Ready's Image may have gone after Maimonides too soon in the Hopeful.

"In retrospect we probably went a little too aggressive pressing the pace," Pletcher said. "He's a horse that will relax early in his races, doesn't need to be on the lead. Obviously he's got natural speed, so he's not going to be way out of it going a mile, but I think with a larger field and more than one potential pacemaker we can ride him accordingly and not have to worry about letting anyone steal it."

Ready's Image will break from post 8 under Eibar Coa, who takes over from John Velazquez as that jockey rides in Kentucky on Saturday.

Silver Edition, a good-looking debut winner for D. Wayne Lukas, completes the field.