08/05/2011 3:23PM

Saratoga: Champagne d'Oro seeks spark in Honorable Miss


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. − There are parents who mark every summer at Saratoga by taking pictures of their kids, an annual record of their growth spurts. Same time, next year. The connections of Champagne d’Oro are hoping their annual trip to Saratoga results in another memorable photo, in the winner’s circle.

On Sunday, when Champagne d’Oro goes to the post in the Grade 2, $150,000 Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga, it will mark exactly one year since her powerful victory in the Grade 1 Test Stakes.

It will also mark one year since her last win.

Champagne d’Oro − a half-sister to this year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Ruler On Ice − has lost five straight since the Test and has not even finished in the money. On paper, she is a dicey proposition in the Honorable Miss. But her fondness for this track, and her deceivingly good effort against the race flow in the Princess Rooney last time out at Calder, makes it impossible to simply toss her overboard, despite the long drought.

“At Calder she bucked the bias,” her trainer, Eric Guillot, said Friday morning at the Oklahoma training track. “It rained on Thursday and Friday there, and then on Saturday the track got deeper and heavier. She was right there at the eighth pole.”

Champagne d’Oro wound up fifth in the 10-horse field in a race in which the late runners, including the victorious Sassy Image, dominated.

As for Sunday, “She’s gonna get my money,” Guillot said.

To win, Champagne d’Oro will have to run down Wild News, who comes off a front-running, 8 1/2-length victory in a third-level allowance at Belmont Park last time out going six furlongs, the same distance as the Honorable Miss. Her trainer, John Parisella, on Friday morning said Wild News will be “going to the front.”

“No matter what happens, provided everybody breaks even,” he said.

Wild News is making her first start at Saratoga, but she heads into this race in the best form of her career. She has finished first or second in 8 of 10 starts.

The likely favorite is Tar Heel Mom, a consistent mare who has raced with distinction all along the Eastern seaboard, from Gulfstream to Belmont, Parx Racing to Delaware. She owns two wins and two seconds in her last four starts, all as the odds-on favorite.

Irish Gypsy ships in from California, where she comes off consecutive stakes victories at Hollywood Park for trainer Bob Baffert. She led from start to finish last time but can sit and finish, a strategy that may work best in this abbreviated five-horse field.

Beat the Blues, favorably drawn in the outside post, nearly beat Sassy Image in the Winning Colors at Churchill Downs before that mare’s Princess Rooney score.