10/03/2007 11:00PM

Ready's Image looks familiar in Champagne

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Though no two races ever are alike, it's hard to quell a sense of deja vu when it comes to the 135th and 136th runnings of the Champagne Stakes.

To recall, Champagne 135 was won last year by Scat Daddy, who was purchased as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale by James Scatuorchio and came up to the race after winning the Sanford and running second in the Hopeful for trainer Todd Pletcher.

All those things are the same in the background of Ready's Image, who was odds-on in three starts during the summer but may be a square price Saturday. Scat Daddy paid $7.40 in last year's Champagne after being overtaken late in the Hopeful as part of a 4-5 entry along with deep-closing winner Circular Quay.

Their Beyer Speed Figure patterns are remarkably similar as well, the difference being that Ready's Image's numbers are faster. Scat Daddy earned a 95 in the Sanford, regressed to an 86 in the Hopeful, then rebounded to 93 in the Champagne after being taken farther off the pace than in his formative races. Ready's Image got a 105 in the Sanford (a figure burnished when runner-up Tale of Ekati won the recent Futurity) and regressed to a 90 in the Hopeful - a decline that can be attributed at least in part to tracking Maimonides through opening fractions of 22.60 and 22.40 seconds and finally getting past that highly touted rival after six furlongs in 1:09.40.

"He rated kindly enough in the Hopeful," Pletcher said. "We had a tough dilemma to figure out that day in a short field with one horse who had a lot of speed and another horse that figured to drop out the back. By applying the pressure, we probably ended up doing a little too much early on and setting it up for Majestic Warrior."

Scat Daddy was rated back in seventh early in his Champagne and won it with a grinding four-wide rally. While Ready's Image may not be that far back, his outside draw is ideal for tracking a contested pace among War Pass, Lantana Mob, and Silver Edition, none of whom has raced beyond six furlongs. From there it will be a matter of bracing for the late run of Majestic Warrior.

"Obviously, he's done very well at shorter distances, but I think he's got the right kind of disposition that will allow him to relax and stretch out," said Pletcher.

Since 1991, the Beyer par for the last 16 Champagnes is 97, and seven times it has taken a figure of 100 or better to win.

The par for the Frizette, the filly counterpart immediately following the Champagne, is 91. Winning figures have ranged from Flanders's 102 in 1994 to Sutra's 68 last year - which may be the record for lowest winning figure in a Grade 1 race.

Chances are good the Frizette will unfold similarly to the recent Spinaway and Matron - fast early and slow late. The first half-mile of the Spinaway was run in a rocket-fast 44.82 seconds, but the last three-eighths was a stagger-fest of 39.42 seconds. The Matron's corresponding fractions were 45.80 and 38.40.

Dill or No Dill, purchased privately after a front-running win against males at Remington Park, looks like a dead-send from the inside post. She will be pressed by morning-line favorite Indian Blessing, who set blistering fractions winning her debut at Saratoga. It is a situation that could favor Backseat Rhythm or Sunday Holiday, whose connections called an audible after she drew the 13-hole in Keeneland's Alcibiades, and decided to run here. Both are turning back from maiden victories in slightly longer races.

Backseat Rhythm improved sharply on turf, and her last-to-first triumph, besides being fast, was especially impressive because speed has been carrying very well on Belmont Park's bone-dry turf, which hasn't had any appreciable rainfall in weeks.

The week began with five turf races on Wednesday's card. Four were won wire to wire and the other was won by a horse that reached the lead after the opening half-mile.

Jamaica: Adagio should like course

The current course conditions may be the key to assessing the Jamaica, which follows the two juvenile stakes as the third leg of the late pick four.

There is no confirmed pacesetter, but the likeliest suspects are Nobiz Like Shobiz, a five-time stakes winner who was close-up throughout the Hall of Fame and the Kent, and Adagio, an intriguing European import. Adagio set the pace last time out against Authorized, who returned 16 days later to win the Epsom Derby and who is the early 5-4 favorite for Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Authorized's resume also includes a win in the Juddmonte International.

Adagio had trouble at the break in 3 of his 5 starts in England, but won twice on good-to-firm ground, a hint the near-drought conditions here will be favorable. Indeed, Adagio's only loss on such footing, a 12th-place finish in the Group 1 2000 Guineas behind Irish 2000 Guineas repeater Cockney Rebel, is better than it looks because it came in a 24-horse field!