SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Blue Devil Racing Stable’s homebred Come Dancing emerged as one of the country’s leading older female sprinters last summer at Saratoga Race Course, and trainer Carlos Martin is hopeful the 6-year-old mare will flash that same form when she goes after a second straight victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Ballerina presented by NYRA Bets.
The 42nd running of the seven-furlong Ballerina for older fillies and mares is one of five graded stakes worth $1.95 million on a Runhappy Travers Day program highlighted by the 151st renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers for 3-year-olds going 1 ¼ miles.
Also on the card are the Grade 1, $300,000 Longines Test for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs; Grade 3, $200,000 Troy for 4-year-olds and up sprinting 5 ½ furlongs on the grass; and Grade 3, $150,000 Waya at 1 ½ miles on turf for older fillies and mares. The card will be broadcast on Saratoga Live on FOX Sports and MSG Networks.
Named for the inaugural winner of the Maskette, now contested as the Go for Wand, in 1954, the Ballerina also serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on November 7 at Keeneland. Maryfield won the 2007 Ballerina en route to victory in that year’s first running of the Filly & Mare Sprint.
Come Dancing is attempting to become only the second horse to win multiple editions of the Ballerina following Shine Again in 2001 and 2002 for late Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens.
“She really seems like she’s thriving. She loves Saratoga. She’s put on some weight since her last race and everything has gone pretty good,” Martin said. “We haven’t had any setbacks, haven’t missed any training, so I’m excited about the opportunity for her to do something special and hopefully get back-to-back Ballerinas. That would be like a dream.”
Martin is the grandson of late Hall of Famer Frank “Pancho” Martin, perhaps best known as the trainer of Sham, runner-up to Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky and Preakness, but also led New York in wins for 10 straight years (1973-82). Martin’s late father, Jose, trained three year-end champions and won the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga in 1986 and 1987 with Groovy.
Only Jerkens, fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas (1985-86), and future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher (2011-12) have won the Ballerina in back-to-back years.
“It’s always exciting when you win a big race, especially at Saratoga with so much tradition and so many special times growing up, watching my father with Groovy win back-to-back Foregos and my grandfather and all the success they had here for years,” Martin said. “It helps validate that the Martin name is still around. Unfortunately, they’re not around anymore. I’m never going to be the trainer they were; they trained six champions between them. I’m not trying to be them, but I just like the fact that the name is still out there and hopefully they’re looking down somewhat proud and we can keep it going.”
A multiple graded-stakes winner of more than $1 million in career purses, Come Dancing has raced just twice this year. She was 12th in her season debut, the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom on April 18 at Oaklawn Park when she was saddled by Lukas, and second as the favorite behind fellow Ballerina aspirant Victim of Love in the Grade 3, 6 ½-furlong Vagrancy June 27 at Belmont Park.
Come Dancing won the Grade 3 Distaff and Grade 2 Ruffian and was second in the Grade 1 Odgen Phipps heading into last year’s Ballerina, and Martin said he has not seen a drop off in his stable star despite a lighter schedule largely due to the skewed racing schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“She still has the enthusiasm. She was a little laid-back last year as a 5-year-old. She doesn’t really get too hot and bothered, but she’ll get a little bit excited if somebody goes by her galloping on the track or somebody goes inside of her. She’s got those competitive juices,” Martin said. “I would say she’s pretty similar to last year. She knows when it’s game time.
“She can work in a minute, like she did the other day, or she can go a little too fast. She’ll fool you. She went in 57 and 4 before the Vagrancy. It just depends,” he added. “I just think she’s in a good place right now, mentally and physically. I think as they get older the mental aspect is just as important as the conditioning aspect. You have to put a little bit more thought into it, as far as keeping them fresh mentally as well as physically.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will ride Come Dancing from outside post 7.
Joel Politi’s 2019 Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress will cut back to a sprint for the first time since last summer at Saratoga in an effort to regain her winning form. The 4-year-old Alternation filly captured the Grade 2 Azeri in front-running fashion on March 14 at Oaklawn Park, ran 11th in the Apple Blossom and fourth last out in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis on June 27 at Churchill Downs, contested at 1 1/8 miles.
“It was a strong effort that day in a race where she kind of just got run into the ground. I didn’t think we did a very good job of kind of rating her speed,” trainer Tom Amoss said of the Fleur de Lis effort. “Having said that, she’s recovered well and she’s training well.”
Serengeti Empress set the pace and was game to the wire in a half-length loss to Covfefe in the 2019 Test at Saratoga. Covfefe would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and be named both Champion 3-Year-Old Filly and Champion Female Sprinter.
“The move to shorten up to seven-eighths has a lot to do with last summer at Saratoga. That was a really good seven-eighths race for her, so we feel that this might be something that we can use to our advantage,” Amoss said. “That was last year and it’s this year now. A lot will be made of what Serengeti is right now compared to what she was last year at this time. That’s a fair question. All I can tell you is that she is doing well and we’re very comfortable with trying her at seven-eighths.”
Serengeti Empress tuned up for the Ballerina with a half-mile breeze in 46.93 seconds July 26 at Saratoga, the fastest of 74 horses. Luis Saez will ride from post 1.
“She’s a really, really good work horse, so anything less than an attractive work pattern would be a cause for concern with her. She likes her job a lot,” Amoss said. “I think her overall weight as well as her brightness of coat are as good as I’ve seen it this year, so Saratoga definitely agrees with her.”
A Grade 1 winner at 2 and 3, Kaleem Shah Inc., Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Bellafina looks to extend that streak to her 4-year-old season in the Ballerina. Based in California with trainer Simon Callaghan, the Quality Road filly has raced three times in 2020, winning the Grade 3, six-furlong Desert Stormer on May 17 at Santa Anita. Third in last year’s Grade 1 Test at Saratoga, Bellafina posted Grade 1 wins in the 2018 Del Mar Debutante and Chandelier and 2019 Santa Anita Oaks.
Jose Ortiz gets the call from post 4.
Tommy Town Thoroughbreds’ Victim of Love upset the Vagrancy by 1 ¾ lengths at odds of 27-1 for her first career graded triumph and second in a stakes, following the 6 ½-furlong What a Summer on January 18 at Laurel Park to kick off her 4-year-old campaign. Based at Penn National with trainer Todd Beattie, she ran second in the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie on February 15, also at Laurel. Jose Lezcano rides from post 3.
Beattie is approaching the Ballerina with a similar mindset as he had prior to the Vagrancy, giving an opportunity to a filly that’s doing well.
“That’s the way I’m looking at it, I’m taking a shot,” Beattie said. “She’s going to obviously have to run her best race to get it done, but think there’s a chance that she might be ready to run a good one. I feel pretty comfortable with how she’s doing, thought everything was in line and it was perfect timing. We thought we’d take a swing.”
St. George Stable’s homebred Letruska will make her New York debut in the Ballerina for trainer Fausto Gutierrez. A two-time Group 1 winner in Mexico, the 4-year-old Letruska beat males in the 1 ¼-mile Copa Invitacional del Caribe last December and last out won the one-mile Added Elegance on June 27, both at Gulfstream Park. In between, she traveled to Oaklawn Park for a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance victory under Ricardo Santana Jr., who returns to ride from post 5.
“She won a tough allowance at Oaklawn Park after the layoff. The last race she had at Gulfstream, in my opinion, was spectacular. She ran very fast. She covered six furlongs in 1:08 and change,” Gutierrez said. “This was the reason I came here. I’m sure she is ready for this level of competition.”
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has won the Ballerina a record five times, and will send out Gainesway Stable and Andrew Rosen’s Pink Sands. A maiden winner in 2018 at Saratoga, the 5-year-old Tapit mare captured the Grade 3, one-mile Rampart and Grade 2, seven-furlong Inside Information over the winter at Gulfstream Park then went unraced for five months before finishing fifth in the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps on June 13 at Belmont Park.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the mount from post 6.
McGaughey’s Ballerina wins came with Lass Trump in 1984, Cadillacing in 1988, Queena in 1991, Roamin Rachel in 1994 and Furlough in 1999.
Arindel homebred Cookie Dough, trained by Juan Alvarado, placed in five graded stakes before her triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Royal Delta on February 15 at Gulfstream Park. She has not started since fading to last after racing on or near the pace in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom April 18 at Oaklawn Park, but has fired three consecutive bullet workouts in preparation for her return, most recently going five furlongs in 57.77 seconds on July 24.
Fourth in an optional claimer last summer at Saratoga, Cookie Dough will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez from post 2.
Field for the Ballerina
Race 7, post time 3:42 p.m. ET
Post, horse, sire, trainer, jockey, owner
1. Serengeti Empress (Alternation) – Tom Amos – Luis Saez – Joel Politi
2. Cookie Dough (Brethren) – Juan Alvarado – John Velazquez – Arindel
3. Victim of Love (Speightstown) – Todd Beattie – Jose Lezcano – Tommy Town Thoroughbreds LLC
4. Bellafina (Quality Road) – Simon Callahan – Jose Ortiz – Kaleem Shah, Inc., Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor, and Derrick Smith
5. Letruska (Super Saver) – Fausto Gutierrez – Ricardo Santana, Jr. – St. George Stable LLC
6. Pink Sands (Tapit) – Shug McGhauhey – Irad Ortiz, Jr. – Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck) and Andrew Rosen
7. Come Dancing (Malibu Moon) – Carlos Martin – Javier Castellano – Blue Devil Racing Stable (Holliday)
Come Dancing wins the 2019 Ketel One Ballerina Stakes
The Ballerina is slated as Race 7 on Saturday’s 12-race card, which offers a first post of noon Eastern. Saratoga Live will present daily television coverage of the 40-day summer meet on FOX Sports and MSG Networks. For the complete Saratoga Live broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
Saratoga Entries for Saturday, August 8
Edited Press Release
Photo: Come Dancing waltzes home in the 2019 Ballerina coming from behind after a bad start. Credit: Skip Dickstein