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2004 Champagne Stakes Results

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Proud Accolade

Proud Accolade holds off Afleet Alex in the 2004 Champagne Stakes at Belmont.

Walter Pitcher
Padua Stable's Proud Accolade remained undefeated and put himself in position to win a divisional title Saturday afternoon, holding off favored Afleet Alex for a half-length victory in the 133rd running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne for two-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth. Unbeaten in two prior starts at Saratoga, both at six and a half furlongs, Proud Accolade had no problem with the added distance of the one-turn Champagne and now looms a major player for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Silver Train, under jockey Mike Smith, emerged with the early lead to set the pace of :23 3/5; :47 1/5 and 1:11 2/5, but it was a tight pack heading for him. Proud Accolade, a son of Yes It's True, had clear sailing on the outside and Velazquez used it wisely. Afleet Alex, meanwhile, was in behind horses and jockey Jeremy Rose made the decision to bring his mount out and around horses. Afleet Alex, who was previously undefeated in four starts, responded but couldn't get there in time as he suffered his first loss as Proud Accolade reached the wire in 1:42 1/5. Silver Train held on four fourth, with Park Avenue Ball, One Fein Dad, Wallstreet Scandal and All Trumps behind.

"I think he wins if he gets a clean trip," said Afleet Alex's trainer, Tim Ritchey. "That's what happens in racing. He ran his race. He did a good job. He was catching that horse at the end, so distance wasn't a problem. We found that out for absolute certainty and we go forward from here. They all get beat; Secretariat got beat. I think it was more the traffic that beat him. As for the Breeders' Cup, we'll see how he comes out of the race. Just depends on that."

Both Pletcher and Velazquez are also looking forward to the Breeders' Cup. "Based on the way he ran the first two times, and the way he trained up to this, I was fairly optimistic about the distance," said Pletcher, who won the Meadowlands Cup on Friday night with Balto Star, who will likely be cross-entered in the $2 million John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf and the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic. "The race unfolded pretty much the way we thought it would. He was stalking the pace in a good position. When Johnny called on him, he responded well. "The one thing that has been so impressive about him from Day 1 is that he has always had a terrific mind. A lot of horses you get in two-year-old-in-training sales that are fast want to be fast all the time. He's one of those colts that is very cooperative and gives it to you when you ask for it. Assuming he comes out well, we'll go to the Breeders' Cup."

Velazquez also lauded Proud Accolade, his fourth winner of the afternoon and one worth $6.80 to the $2 win players. "It worked out beautifully," Velazquez said. "He let me do whatever I wanted with him out there. He relaxed good. I had the favorite in there, and I didn't want to move until I had to. Once he was going around the turn, he was going perfectly. He was stretching out today, and I didn't want to move too soon and get him tired. He did well."

Sun King checked in third in his third career start and first over a mile. "Nice horses won it: the second choice won and Afleet Alex was second and we were right there with the good horses," said trainer Nick Zito. "(Javier) Castellano said there was more speed in there than he thought. He broke so sharp that I would have wanted him to be right where the 8 (Proud Accolade) was."

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