Havana held off a furious late charge from Honor Code on Saturday to win the Foxwoods Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park.
Ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., the 2-year-old son of Dunkirk broke alertly and hugged the rail to shadow Debt Ceiling through an opening quarter-mile in 22.87 seconds. As his pursuers went wide into the stretch, Havana opened up by 4 ½ lengths and dug in through the final yards to claim his second straight victory.
“He got a little tired at the end, but he was still running,” said Ortiz, subbing for Havana’s regular jockey John Velazquez, who was out of town. “He was perfect all the way.”
Havana completed the mile in 1:35.81.
“Anytime you go from 5 ½ to a mile and do it against the type of horses he was in with today, it’s always a concern,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has now saddled five winners of the Foxwoods Champagne. “We did a similar thing with Uncle Mo [in the 2010 Champagne], the difference being that was six [furlongs] to a mile. I think it takes a pretty special horse to do it. I’m proud of his effort today. We knew we were asking him a lot, but we were doing it because we liked him a lot.”
Honor Code, who like Havana was making the second start of his career, was 1 ½ lengths clear of third-place finisher Ride On Curlin.
“Having to go wide probably cost us the race, but Havana got the jump at the head of the stretch and opened up, and we were unlucky to not catch him,” said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey of Honor Code. “I thought it was an awfully big effort for a horse of his type who is just learning and is kind of lazy in the first part until you do ask him.”
Sent off as the 5-2 second choice, Havana returned $7.20 for a $2 win bet and earned $300,000 for owners Michael Tabor, John Mangier and Derrick Smith, who purchased him at Barretts for $575,000.
As part of the “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, the Foxwoods Champagne victory earned Havana an all-fees paid entry to the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November at Santa Anita.
“I think there’s room for improvement,” said Pletcher. “I think he can move forward for his third start.”
NYRA photo by Labozetta