Untitled-1ELMONT, N.Y .- It was not the start jockey Joe Bravo or trainer Dominick Schettino had envisioned for Greenpointcrusader in Saturday’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, but it was a finish they will never forget. Breaking last after being impeded leaving the starting gate, Greenpointcrusader recovered nicely and rallied six wide in the stretch to record a dominant 4 1/2-length victory in the $500,000 Champagne and earning a fees-paid berth into the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland on Oct. 31.

The longshot Sunny Ridge finished second, two lengths ahead of the maiden Portfolio Manager. It was a half-length back to Sail Ahoy, who was followed, in order, by Tale of S’Avall, Ralis – the 8-5 favorite – Magna Light, and Ready Dancer. Rafting scratched. The victory was the first in a Grade 1 for Schettino, 49, who saddled his first winner in 1993 at Aqueduct. Schettino had won just two prior Grade 3 stakes, both with Serious Spender in 1994.

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“It’s exciting, first Grade 1, you try hard, you work hard, you need the horses,” Schettino said. As late as Monday, Schettino didn’t have a rider for Greenpointcrusader. Javier Castellano had won on him, but he was committed to ride Ralis, whom he had ridden to victory in the Grade 1 Hopeful two days after Greenpointcrusader won. Schettino and the ownership group led by Anthony Bonomo and Vincent Viola ultimately chose Bravo. Schettino wanted Bravo to have Greenpointcrusader up close, but that plan changed when he was impeded by both Ready Dancer and Magna Light leaving the gate. Greenpointcrusader was last.

Bravo said his heart dropped but Greenpointcrusader “recovered so good and so comfortable. He was so relaxed down the backside, he gave me the confidence when we turned for home that he
was going to kick.” Greenpointcrusader was sixth, but only four lengths off the pace as Tale of S’avall ran a half-mile in 46.78 seconds, chased by Ralis and Sunny Ride. Around the turn, Bravo moved Greenpointcrusader further outside and into the clear as Sunny Ridge, under Junior Alvarado, was about to confront and overtake Tale of S’avall. Sunny Ridge had the lead in mid-stretch, but Greenpointcrusader charged down the center of the sloppy main track and drew away while being taken in hand by Bravo in the late stages. Greenpointcrusader, a son of Bernardini, covered the mile in 1:36.25 – 1.51 seconds faster than Nickname’s time for winning the Grade 1 Frizette for juvenile fillies – and returned $15 as the fourth choice.

“He leveled off beautiful. The horse in front I was worried about because he kicked away from horses nicely,” Bravo said. “But the stride that this big boy has; that was fun. The last sixteenth of a mile I geared him down. I didn’t want to get to the bottom of him. You want to save something for the next one.” The next one will most likely be the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he will get to run 1 1/16 miles around two turns. “That’s a big effort, being back there and to come wide like that,” Schettino said. “What’s good about it the more distance the better for him.”

Jason Servis, the trainer of Sunny Ridge said, he would also consider the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He felt his horse prefers to be covered up, but understood why Alvarado had the horse so close
to the pace. “That’s not the way he wants to run, but I understand with the bias what Junior was doing,” Servis said. “If I had to do it all over again and I was back covered up … but he ran big.” Ralis backed up to sixth after being in contention for six furlongs. Jockey Javier Castellano said he believes that perhaps he didn’t handle the wet track. “He was in a great spot turning for home and when I asked him he didn’t respond at all,” Castellano said. “He was spinning his wheels when I tried to ride.”