5 Fast Facts about the Champagne Stakes, a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race
- First run in 1867, the Champagne Stakes is a namesake of the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in England, which began in 1823. Moved to Belmont Park when it opened in 1905, the race was run as a sprint until 1940, when the distance was increased to a mile. Since then it has been either a mile, which it is presently, or 1 1/16 miles.
- Until the advent of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, the Champagne Stakes was arguably the most important 2-year-old race in North America. Between 1957, when the race resumed after not being staged in 1956, and 1983, 18 of the 27 winners were named Champion 2-Year-Old Male, and two other champion juveniles – Hoist the Flag and Secretariat – were disqualified from first.
- The Champagne Stakes was one of just two occasions in a 10-race rivalry that Alydar finished ahead of Affirmed. Alydar came from behind Affirmed to win by a length and a quarter. Alydar’s only other victory on the track over Affirmed was an earlier 2-year-old race, though he won the Travers Stakes when Affirmed was disqualified for cutting him off in the back stretch.
- The list of Hall of Fame inductees to win the race is extensive. They include Triple Crown winners Count Fleet and Seattle Slew, along with Ben Brush, Colin, Grey Lag, Sarazen, Alsab, Buckpasser, Riva Ridge, Foolish Pleasure, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, and Easy Goer.
- These days the Champagne Stakes is a “win and you’re in” prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Five horses have completed the double: Fly So Free (1990), Timber Country (1994), War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010), and Shanghai Bobby (2012). Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners who were beaten in the Champagne Stakes are Is It True (second in 1988), Rhythm (second in 1989), and Unbridled’s Song (fourth in 1995).