SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Multiple Grade 1-winning trainer Richard Baltas has saddled nearly 600 winners in his career but has yet to send out a starter at storied Saratoga.
Saturday will end that streak as Motion Emotion takes on Midnight Bisou in the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign presented by NYRA Bets. The veteran conditioner will double his numbers in one week’s time when Venetian Harbor ships to the Spa for the Grade 1, $300,000 Longines Test.
Baltas said he hasn’t been to Saratoga since the summer of 1985 when Lady’s Secret upset Mom’s Command in the Test.
“I’ve raced in New York a lot but for some reason Saratoga has avoided me. The last time I was in Saratoga I was working for Spendthrift Farm at the yearling sale when Lady’s Secret won the Test….that’s a long time ago,” said Baltas. “For some reason, all my good horses have been running at Belmont and I just never made it up there until now. And if all goes well, the other good filly [Venetian Harbor] will be up there next week.”
Mark DeDomenico, Abbondanza Racing and Medallion Racing’s Motion Emotion, a 4-year-old daughter of Take Charge Indy, captured the Zia Park Oaks in November and was second last out in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis won by Personal Ensign-rival Midnight Bisou.
She worked a sharp five-eighths on July 25 in 1:01.40 on the Churchill Downs main before shipping up to Saratoga. While Baltas will remain in California, it will be his assistant, Aimee Dollase, who will saddle Motion Emotion in the Personal Ensign, a nine-furlong test offering a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“She’s been training really well. She had a good breeze at Churchill before she left for Saratoga on Tuesday,” said Baltas. “She shipped in fine and galloped Wednesday at Saratoga. My assistant said she’s doing well.”
Motion Emotion finished second in a pair of Grade 3 events at Oaklawn during her sophomore campaign behind Chocolate Kisses in the Honeybee and Lady Apple in the Fantasy, and endured a troubled trip in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill when elevated to eighth.
With just shy of a half-million dollars in purse earnings, Baltas said he is hopeful of adding Grade 1 black type to the valuable filly’s ledger when taking on a compact but talented six-horse Personal Ensign field.
“She’s a little ambitiously placed but they were expecting a small field. We ran second to the big mare [Midnight Bisou] last time in the Fleur de Lis – we were soundly beaten – but it was still a good run,” said Baltas. “This is a Grade 1 race, it’s a chance to get some black type and there’s a big purse. The horse is doing very well, so we’ll see what happens.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., second in the Saratoga rider standings with 16 wins heading into Thursday’s card, will pilot Motion Emotion for the first time as the Kentucky-bred bay tries to make her third attempt at nine furlongs a winning one.
“It all depends on the pace. It’s a little far but I don’t see any reason why the distance would affect her,” said Baltas. “She’s able to settle in her races.”
Ciaglia Racing, Highland Yard, River Oak Farm and Dominic Savides’ Venetian Harbor, a sophomore daughter of Munnings bred in Kentucky by Colts Neck Stables, posted a bullet half-mile breeze in 47.20 on July 25 at San Luis Rey Training Center.
Baltas said the filly will breeze once more before he decides whether or not to ship Venetian Harbor to Saratoga for the Longines Test, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies.
“She is doing well at San Luis Rey where she’s done all her good work. She had a nice breeze there the other day, in hand, in 47 and she’ll work again on Saturday and we’ll make a decision about putting her on a plane,” said Baltas.
The speedy bay graduated impressively at second asking by 10 ¾-lengths on December 29 at Santa Anita in a 6 ½-furlong maiden sprint and followed up with a 9 ¼-length score in the one-mile Las Virgenes at Santa Anita in February to kick off her 3-year-old campaign.
Venetian Harbor stretched out to 1 1/16-miles for her last two starts when second behind Swiss Skydiver in the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn and second on July 11 in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland won in smart fashion by Speech.
Baltas said a return to sprinting in the Longines Test wouldn’t negate a potential return to two-turn races.
“She has a lot of natural speed and she likes to put herself in the race,” said Baltas. “She’s won going two turns in the Las Virgenes going a mile, but I’m not sure if she wants to go a mile and an eighth or not. She got beat by a pretty good filly the other day and they ran a really good number. She’s a hard-knocking filly so we’ll see if she can win this race.”
NYRA Press Release Photo: Motion Emotion in a work at Oaklawn in March. Credit: Coglianese Photos