10/10/2016 7:46PM

Road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby: Champagne Stakes analysis


Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne Stakes; one mile; Belmont Park; Oct. 8, 2016
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Practical Joke
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Owner: Klaravich Stables Inc. and William Lawrence
Beyer Speed Figure: 88

:: Breeders’ Cup Challenge: Results, replays, charts, and more

In addition to being an early stop on the Road to the Derby, the Champagne is New York’s final major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, to be run Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.

The top two in this race both ran well, with wildly different trips, and while the victorious PRACTICAL JOKE may be the better colt as distances increase, there’s no doubt runner-up SYNDERGAARD ran a sensational race and will be extremely effective at anything up to a mile, maybe 1 1/16 miles, especially if he gets a far more favorable pace scenario than he encountered this day.

Practical Joke remained unbeaten by outbattling Syndergaard through the lane despite being interfered with late. He broke a bit slowly from his inside post, but the wicked early pace played into his late-running style. He was given a gorgeous trip by Rosario, who was able to move through inside down the backstretch, race in the clear while fourth on the turn, and only move around one horse – Syndergaard – the whole race. After saving all that ground on the turn and moving into the hot pace, Practical Joke seemed destined for an easy victory. But Syndergaard refused to yield, and a fortunate head bob gave Practical Joke the win, though Practical Joke did have to overcome Syndergaard drifting out several lanes and making contact in the late stages.

Syndergaard deserved a better fate. As with Practical Joke, he came into this race unbeaten after two starts at Saratoga. He broke sharply, but was hounded by West Coast invader BIG GRAY ROCKET through a quick opening quarter in 22.74 seconds and an insane second quarter of 21.89 seconds that resulted in an opening half in 44.63 seconds. He put away Big Gray Rocket entering the stretch, but was immediately tackled by Practical Joke. He battled bravely to the wire while drifting out late under left-handed whipping and lost a brutal head bob while finishing 6 1/2 lengths in front of third-place FAVORABLE OUTCOME and seven lengths in front of his early nemesis, Big Gray Rocket. Pace made this race.

Favorable Outcome, making just the second start of his career, wound up in an ideal spot down the backstretch, in the clear in third, a few lengths behind the dueling leaders. He loomed up menacingly midway on the turn, but could not get to the leaders, was late to swap leads entering the lane, and got the best of Big Gray Rocket in the final sixteenth while no threat to the top two.

Big Gray Rocket, who finished fourth, showed good speed from his outside post to prompt Syndergaard, could not keep up entering the lane, did not swap over to his correct lead until halfway down the stretch, and was outrun in the late going by Favorable Outcome to lose the third spot. At this point in his career, he’s probably best being taken back and allowed to make one run, while staying around one turn.

THIRST FOR VICTORY, who finished fifth, broke well but was outrun early, could not go with Practical Joke when that horse came inside him down the backstretch, was well back after that, and beat only one horse. He was overmatched against this bunch.

LOOKIN AT BLESSING, who was last of six, stumbled slightly leaving the gate, raced outside Thirst for Victory down the backstretch and around the far turn, then drifted out in upper stretch while being outrun.