Chad Brown sent out favorite Jack Christopher to win Saturday’s $500,000 Champagne (G1) in style, but his odds-on McKulick was overturned in the $200,000 Miss Grillo (G2) by Sail By.
Jack Christopher was no secret in his Aug. 28 unveiling at Saratoga, where he was dispatched as the 11-10 favorite. After the flashy Munnings colt forced the pace and powered away by 8 3/4 lengths, his bandwagon grew – not only fans, but bloodstock industry titans. Coolmore Stud and Peter M. Brant bought into Jack Christopher, joining co-owners Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister.
The main question going into the Champagne was how the strongly-made chestnut would handle the step up from a six-furlong maiden to Belmont Park’s one-turn mile. Bettors kept faith by making him the 17-10 favorite, and Jack Christopher responded affirmatively to earn a free pass to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
Breaking alertly from post 3, Jack Christopher was tractable as jockey Jose Ortiz eased him into a stalking spot. They let Hopeful (G1) hero Gunite dash ahead through fractions of :23.57 and :46.49, then moved to attack.
Jack Christopher dismissed Gunite with ease by the six-furlong mark in 1:11.15, and increased his advantage to 5 1/2 lengths in midstretch. Late-running Commandperformance struck top gear to reduce the margin to 2 3/4 lengths, but the winner was long gone. Jack Christopher did lose momentum in the final quarter, clocking :26.16 to complete the mile in 1:37.31.
“We knew we had speed,” Brown told NYRA publicity, “and Jose (Ortiz) and I agreed to not take that away from him. We just wanted to break out of there and get a good spot.
“A very quick decision he made – which was the right one – was to slip out to the outside right away and I think, from there, I felt super-confident that we would get there with no excuse and he showed up.”
Jack Christopher also earned 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1). The rest of the Derby points went to Todd Pletcher juveniles. Runner-up Commandperformance received four points, and the twice-raced maiden continues to have appeal as distances increase. Stablemate Wit, who found traffic trying to improve from last, picked up two points for finishing a distant third. My Prankster got one point for fourth. Gunite and Kavod rounded out the order under the wire.
The third Champagne winner for Brown, following Practical Joke (2016) and Complexity (2018), Jack Christopher hopes to fare better on the stretch-out than they did. He will bring a 2-for-2 mark, and $330,000 in earnings, to the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile at Del Mar.
“He was a horse that identified himself as early on as his first work,” Brown said. “I was on the phone with the connections saying, ‘This is potentially a really good horse. I can’t believe what I just saw.’ He’s just been brilliant in every work. There was some buzz around him before he ran, and he lived up to it.”
Bred by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate in Kentucky, Jack Christopher sold to BSW/Liz Crow, agent, for $135,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling. His dam, the Half Ours mare Rushin No Blushin, is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Street Boss.
Jack Christopher is expressing his speed-oriented pedigree, so the jury is out about whether he can maintain his dominance over further. Brown points to his temperament as reason to think he might transfer his game to a route.
“What I like a lot about him is that he switches off nicely,” his trainer said. “He’s not a horse that pulls. If you drop your hands, he’ll switch off and rate. Will he do that around two turns? I don’t know, but we’ll be sure to have him prepared in the morning to take a little dirt and sit. We’ll see if he can do it at Del Mar.”
Miss Grillo (G2)
Brown was expected to win a ninth Miss Grillo, with his McKulick bet down to 2-5 favoritism and Kinchen the 3.45-1 second choice. But the 12.30-1 Sail By engineered the upset, under a pitch-perfect ride by Junior Alvarado. Now her connections – owner/breeder Treadway Racing Stable and trainer Leah Gyarmati –are considering the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
Drawn on the rail, Sail By showed speed from the gate, then conceded to Charlee O who was intent on the lead. Sail By was perched in an ideal spot, a tracking second, as the 35-1 longest shot on the board got away with splits of :23.59, :49.40, and 1:14.46 on the firm inner turf.
Meanwhile, the Brown fillies were reserved a bit further back. Kinchen raced in fourth, and hotpot McKulick bided her time in a penultimate fifth.
Kinchen’s rider, Tyler Gaffalione, was alive to the dawdling pace but thought it would be worse to stoke up the once-raced maiden too early.
“The lack of speed definitely took its toll,” Gaffalione said. “There wasn’t much pace in the race today. I didn’t want to take my filly out of her element. I had to let her run her race. She’s still inexperienced but learning with each race.”
Sail By pounced entering the stretch and seized the decisive jump. Kinchen quickened in pursuit, and McKulick reeled off a field-best final quarter in :21.88 according to Trakus, but they could not bridge enough of the gap.
Crossing the wire one length ahead of Kinchen, with McKulick another head away in third, Sail By covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.21 and returned $26.60. Philly Eagles closed from last for fourth, followed by Hail To and Charlee O.
“So, it wasn’t a plan,” Gyarmati said of Sail By’s tactics, “but I’m glad he (Alvarado) did things just as he did. He let her break and she broke really well and the other horse (Charlee O) went which was perfect because it got her to settle.”
Alvarado recapped his winning trip:
“She broke very sharply out of there. Being in the one-hole and with the rail being out a little bit, I had to take advantage of the break. She was laying second beautifully and was relaxing nicely. When I hit the half-mile, I gave her a little breather.
“I knew I was going to have horse turning for home, I was just wondering how much the other horses would be coming after me. When I turned for home and asked her, I knew they were going to be in trouble because she was coming home very quickly.”
Sail By is from the first North American crop of young Darley sire Astern, an Australian Group 1 star by Medaglia d’Oro. The Kentucky homebred rallied from well off the pace to capture her debut, a six-furlong maiden on this course, and she closed for second in the five-furlong Colleen S. at Monmouth.
The Sept. 2 P.G. Johnson S. at Saratoga was to be her opportunity to stretch out to two turns. But the distance changed to seven furlongs when it was transferred to the Spa’s main track. Sail By ended up setting the pace and finishing third. She proved her ability to route in the Miss Grillo, improving her resume to 4-2-1-1, $193,900.
“I always thought she wouldn’t have a problem stretching out,” Alvarado said. “I was hoping she wouldn’t get too sharp at the beginning. I knew she would get the distance for sure.
“Mentally, she’s improved. She was pretty fit the first time I rode her, but mentally I could see she needs to mature a little more, but today we got that. Just being mature and fit at the same time helped us win the race today.”
The well-named Sail By is the first foal from Fly By, a Johar mare who descends from the influential matron Where You Lead.