That disappointment is long forgotten, however. Heading into the race, co-owner/trainer Clair Umholtz likes what he sees of Champagne Tonight after three qualifiers, the last of which she won in 1:55.4 on April 18 at Northfield.
“You know what, she did everything we wanted to when we qualified her,” said Umholtz, who owns the horse with Ngaire Umholtz and Dan Kennedy. “I was happy with all three qualifiers.
“I couldn’t ask her to come back any better. There were no problems at all, she still likes to race. We’re happy going into it.”
|Scott Cantor photo|
|Champagne Tonight banked $202,316 last year as a freshman.|
Champagne Tonight is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line for the Courageous Lady. She will start from post three with driver Brett Miller. Charisma Hanover, from the stable of Ron Burke with Dave Palone in the sulky, is the 5-2 favorite from post five.
“I think she’ll be ready,” Umholtz said. “There’s a couple tough ones in there. I never discount anybody. As soon as you say they don’t belong in there, that will be the one that beats you.
“Burke has got two nice fillies in there. The one that’s picked to win won her race in (1):52.4 at The Meadows. The other I think is Carols Desire; she won her first race and she looks good. I saw her race last year when she won the Kentuckiana (Stallion Management Stakes) at Indiana Downs. Every horse in there, they’re all nice fillies, there’s not going to be any easy races.”
Which is why Umholtz isn’t losing sleep over the race, especially since it’s Champagne Tonight’s season's debut.
“I want to win the race, but it’s not going to be the end of the world if she doesn’t,” he said. “If she races well, I’ll be happy with that.”
Umholtz purchased Champagne Tonight for $10,000 off a friend who paid $8,000 for the filly. Clair had planned on bidding $12,000 so in his eyes, he still made out. He loved that she was sired by Western Terror, who has produced five millionaire females.
Champagne Tonight paid off for most of last year and won six of seven races and $202,316 heading into the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship for 2-year-old filly pacers. But the horse finished a disappointing seventh after going in as the 3-5 favorite.
“The race didn’t set up well for us; there’s no excuses,” Umholtz said. “She got a fast quarter, but I think she might have had enough for the year. We quit with her for the year. If we tried to squeeze a few more races out of a 2-year-old it might have hurt her.
“She won some of those races pretty handy last year but had to go fast miles. I think it kind of caught up with her so we decided that was enough.”
This year, Champagne Tonight’s schedule is relatively light in the front end of the season.
“I got her eligible for Pennsylvania Sire Stakes, and toward the end of the year we’ll take a chance on a couple of bigger races,” Umholtz said. “We have her staked at the Bluegrass at Lexington, the Valley Forge at Pocono. We kept her eligible for the Breeders Crown. I don’t know if that’s a reach too far or not.”
As for the light start to the season, the trainer said, “I think it just turned out that way. There’s so much money to be made in Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to put her up against the top fillies in the country, I didn’t want to have her go through so many tough races in May and June and have nothing left at the end of the year.”
Umholtz said despite the disappointing Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final showing, there is no residual concern heading into this year.
“I think she’ll race well,” he said. “I’m not saying we should win this race. But if she races well and comes out, I’ll be happy with that.”
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