By J. Keeler Johnson

The 2021-22 Road to the Kentucky Derby continues with Saturday's $500,000 Champagne S. (G1) at Belmont Park. The historic one-mile race—won in the past by such racing legends as Count Fleet, Seattle Slew, and Spectacular Bid—awards 17 Kentucky Derby qualification points, split 10-4-2-1 among the top four finishers.

The Champagne also offers a "Win and You're In" berth to the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar. 

Wit
Total 3 start(s)
Wins:
2
Place:
1
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(96) when dominating the Sanford S. (G3) at Saratoga.
Total Earnings:
$192,000
Owner:
Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable, and Gainesway Stable
Breeder:
Rosilyn Polan
Trainer:
Todd Pletcher
Jockey:
Irad Ortiz
Sire:
Practical Joke
Dam:
Numero d'Oro
Color:
Dark bay/brown

Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne six times, and he'll saddle three starters in search of a seventh victory. The first is Wit, who unleashed eye-catching rallies to win a maiden special weight at Belmont Park and the Sanford S. (G3) at Saratoga by a combined 14 lengths. Wit subsequently suffered poor racing luck in Saratoga's Hopeful S. (G1), where he stumbled at the start before unleashing a sustained mid-race rally into the teeth of a hot pace. Despite these obstacles, Wit fought on to finish clearly second-best, and he's eligible to bounce back with a clean run in the Champagne.

My Prankster
Total 1 start(s)
Wins:
1
Place:
0
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(95) when crushing his debut at Saratoga.
Total Earnings:
$55,000
Owner:
Lawana L. and Robert E. Low
Breeder:
Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings
Trainer:
Todd Pletcher
Jockey:
Luis Saez
Sire:
Into Mischief
Dam:
My Wandy's Girl
Color:
Bay

The second Todd Pletcher trainee couldn't have been much more authoritative in his debut at Saratoga. Sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs, the son of leading sire Into Mischief tracked fast fractions of :21.77 and :44.60 before powering away to win by 10 lengths. Purchased for $600,000 as a yearling, My Prankster ran fast on the clock (earning a 95 Brisnet Speed rating) and figures to factor again in the Champagne.

Jack Christopher
Total 1 start(s)
Wins:
1
Place:
0
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(95) when breaking his maiden at Saratoga.
Total Earnings:
$55,000
Owner:
Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud, and Peter M. Brant
Breeder:
Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate
Trainer:
Chad Brown
Jockey:
Jose Ortiz
Sire:
Munnings
Dam:
Rushin No Blushin
Color:
Chestnut

In terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, the fastest horse in the Champagne field is Jack Christopher, who posted a 99 when smashing his debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga. The son of Munnings showed speed from the start, pressing splits of :21.83 and :44.61, then kicked on impressively to score by 8 3/4 lengths over next-out maiden winner Hoist the Gold. Along the way, Jack Christopher posted excellent Brisnet E1 and E2 Pace ratings of 102 and 110, stamping the Chad Brown trainee as the "speed of the speed" in the Champagne field. If he improves at all off his maiden effort, Jack Christopher will be a formidable win threat.

Kavod
Total 5 start(s)
Wins:
1
Place:
1
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(80) when finishing second in the Tremont S. at Belmont Park.
Total Earnings:
$94,500
Owner:
James K. Chapman and Tritain Biddinger
Breeder:
Steve J. Grant
Trainer:
James K. Chapman
Jockey:
Charles Roberts
Sire:
Lea
Dam:
Weekend Connection
Color:
Chestnut

Kavod showed early promise during the spring meet at Belmont Park, winning a five-furlong maiden special weight before finishing second in the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont S. But the $3,500 yearling acquisition hasn't enjoyed the same success since stepping into graded stakes company, finishing fifth in both the Sanford S. (G3) and With Anticipation S. (G3). Kavod will need a step forward to challenge against even tougher competition in the Champagne.

Gunite
Total 5 start(s)
Wins:
2
Place:
2
Show:
1
Top Speed Rating:
(97) when dominating the Hopeful S. (G1) at Saratoga.
Total Earnings:
$293,988
Owner:
Winchell Thoroughbreds
Breeder:
Winchell Thoroughbreds
Trainer:
Steve Asmussen
Jockey:
Ricardo Santana Jr.
Sire:
Gun Runner
Dam:
Simple Surprise
Color:
Dark bay/brown

The most accomplished runner in the Champagne field is Gunite, a son of hot young sire Gun Runner. The Steve Asmussen trainee required three starts to break his maiden, but then showed significant improvement when adding blinkers for a pair of graded stakes at Saratoga, finishing second in the Saratoga Special S. (G2) before romping to victory in the Hopeful S. (G1). The latter effort saw Gunite overcome a slow start to duel through quick fractions and ultimately win by 5 3/4 lengths over Wit, earning a 97 Brisnet Speed rating. Gunite is clearly progressing in the right direction and can add the Champagne to his resume if he takes one more step forward.

Commandperformance
Total 1 start(s)
Wins:
0
Place:
1
Show:
0
Top Speed Rating:
(92) when finishing second in his debut at Saratoga.
Total Earnings:
$20,000
Owner:
Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable
Breeder:
Damara Farm
Trainer:
Todd Pletcher
Jockey:
Tyler Gaffalione
Sire:
Union Rags
Dam:
Smitten
Color:
Gray/roan

The final Pletcher trainee is the only Champagne entrant without a victory under his belt, but that's not to say Commandperformance lacks encouraging credentials. The son of Belmont S. (G1) winner Union Rags endured a troubled start in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Saratoga last month, but soon rallied over a sloppy track to finish second by just two lengths. With a clean trip over a dry track in the Champagne, Commandperformance is eligible to outrun expectations and vie for a top-four finish.