11/23/2016 10:40AM

Hovdey: Eurton still feeling a buzz from Champagne Room's win

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trained by Peter Eurton, Champagne Room wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and makes her case for an Eclipse Award.

It seems like a dream, but it wasn’t. Three Saturdays ago, at a time of day when a trainer might be hustling to make the first race for a $10,000 claimer or bottom-level maiden, Peter Eurton and his crew led Champagne Room into the dazzling sunlight of the Santa Anita Park walking ring for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

The race went off just past noon, and a few minutes later, Eurton and Champagne Room’s raucous ownership group were celebrating the filly’s three-quarter-length victory over Valadorna. There was room for everyone on the winner’s stand, but just barely.

NBC’s commentators took great pains to point out how slow the time of 1:45.12 for the 1 1/16 miles was, as if to suggest that the winner’s purse of $1.1 million might be prorated based on the level of contempt heaped upon Champagne Room by the speed boys. In fact, all the gates opened at the same time, and among those arrayed behind the first two finishers were the winners of the Frizette, Alcibiades, Spinaway, Chandelier, and Del Mar Debutante.

Typical of the big Breeders’ Cup program, the drama of the Juvenile Fillies was buried beneath the onslaught of eight more events, capped by the clash of titans Arrogate and California Chrome in the Classic. By then, Champagne Room was home and dry back in the Eurton barn, well fed and wondering what happened.

What happened was that she might have just won an Eclipse Award, in spite of her 33-1 odds and modest clocking, since the Juvenile Fillies was billed as the championship event and her earlier score in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes during the Del Mar meet was hardly chopped liver. Eclipse Awards have been won with less.

Eurton was still feeling the glow this week at Santa Anita as he watched Champagne Room return to light exercise. The trainer and the partnership have decided to skip any late-season temptations and instead point their filly to a 3-year-old campaign, commencing with the Las Virgenes Stakes in early February.

“I feel very fortunate to have a filly of that quality,” Eurton said. “Thinking back five or six years ago, I didn’t have anything near these kind of horses that I’m privileged to get right now. And to see her every morning, there in the first stall on the left-hand side, it’s an awesome thing.”

Eurton, 59, is one of those stubborn horsemen who has clung to his profession through thick and thin, now to emerge with one of Southern California’s most respected stables. The happy circumstance that the Juvenile Fillies came along on Champagne Room’s best day is a product of persistence as much as chance. Two disappointing runs subsequent to her Sorrento inflated her Breeders’ Cup odds.

“There are a lot of things you have to deal with in young horses,” Eurton said. “Fortunately for her, it was never a physical thing. But mentally, there was a lot to deal with during those seven weeks at Del Mar.

“You see guys putting 12, 13 works into a 2-year-old because they’re constantly looking for the light to go on and the talent to arrive. But with her, it was always right there, and she had pretty much the minimum of preparation before her first start.”

Champagne Room was beaten only a nose for second in the Del Mar Debutante, but then she did not respond well in her first two-turn try in the Chandelier. She was in jeopardy of becoming one of those Thoroughbreds who burn quickly and flame out.

The Breeders’ Cup changed all that, and now Eurton is looking forward to Champagne Room’s further evolution.

“I walked her for two weeks after the Breeders’ Cup,” Eurton said. “Now she’s jogging for a couple weeks, and she’s loving the time off. We could try and pack her stats in a race like the Starlet, but we feel we have so much more to gain by shooting for the 3-year-old part of a career we all dream about.”

Such dreams help dull the nightmares. Earlier this year, the Eurton stable suffered the loss of stakes fillies Kyriaki (pelvic fracture/internal hemorrhage) and Demonica (cardiac arrest).

For solace, Eurton can always turn to Ashleyluvssugar, who will be back in action Friday at Del Mar in the $200,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, with Gary Stevens aboard again. They teamed to win the Del Mar Handicap and the John Henry Turf Championship, so the race seems ripe for the try.

A 5-year-old son of Game Plan, Ashleyluvssugar is as reliable as the cop on the beat. Still buzzed from the win of Champagne Room, Eurton and company watched Ashleyluvssugar finish fifth in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf five races later, an event dominated by three Europeans and the expatriate Flintshire. Ashleyluvssugar claimed the honor of top U.S. representative and pocketed $120,000 for the trouble.

“I was so proud of his race,” Eurton said. “He only missed fourth by a head.”

The Turf Cup will be a local affair, with only two other 2016 stakes winners among the field of seven going 1 1/2 miles.

“His weight is excellent, he’s doing great, and he just had a great gallop in the mud at Santa Anita – totally dug it,” Eurton said. “That doesn’t mean he’ll win, but we love that guy, and he always shows up.”