Champagne, whose father was a jockey and a trainer and whose grandfather was a veterinarian, has been a smithy at Southern California tracks since the early 1980s. Trainers who are in the Hall of Fame swear by him. The late Bobby Frankel would fly in Champagne on a moment's notice, whenever his horses were in distress, for big out-of-town stakes races. Neil Drysdale has used Champagne for years, and more about Drysdale later. Bob Baffert has used Champagne. Vladimir Cerin, who's not in the Hall of Fame but who won his 1,000th race the day after Thanksgiving, once said this about Champagne: "He's considered the best in the country."
Champagne has on occasion given certain horses sedatives when he reshods them at the barn, and before the Futurity, Comma at the Top showed that that is sometimes a good thing. Miller brought in a shoer to tend to his horse's missing right rear, and he was last seen in a stretcher, headed for an ambulance. The stewards were looking at their watches, and so was Miller, who had taken this one-time $40,000 claimer to success in a graded stakes race just three weeks ago.
Miller grabbed a shoe and decided that he would fix up Comma at the Top himself. "And then I realized, I'm not a shoer," Miller said later. There was a message on Miller's mobile phone to call Neil Drysdale, who didn't have a horse in the race. When they spoke, Drysdale said: "Wes Champagne is on the way."
It was like the cavalry arriving just before the Indians when Champagne entered the paddock. All the while, trainers of some of the other horses were stewing, one of whom was David Hofmans, whose J P's Gusto had beaten Comma to the Top twice and has been considered one of the best Kentucky Derby futures in California. Hofmans, according to the Daily Racing Form, suggested that Comma to the Top run with no shoes in back, only front plates. That was not an outlandish idea, but Champagne's 11th-hour arrival made the issue academic. The odds on Comma to the Top, who had won four in a row, were at 8-5 when the crisis began. As word circulated through the grandstand, and the delay lengthened, they drifted up to 5-2. Comma to the Top won by almost two lengths, and even though J P's Gusto was running hard at the end, from the second bend home he was never going to capture more than second money.
The CashCall Futurity was a $750,000 race. Comma to the Top was bought out of a Florida auction earlier this year for $22,000, and now he's earned more than a half-million. His sire and dam won four races combined. He is owned by a Hollywood crowd, Gary Barber and his partner Roger Birnbaum, and Kevin Tsujihara. Barber's brother Cecil is also involved. Gary Barber's first movie hit was "The Sixth Sense." More recently he produced "Seabiscut," and in between there were "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "The Insider." Now he's ready for a documentary. Working title: "The Shoeman Cometh."