A small but stellar field featuring a quartet of Grade 1 winners are set to gather for the Grade 2, $ 400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
The 29th running of 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa for fillies and mares 3 and up on the turf is one of seven stakes, six of them Grade 1s, worth $ 4.95 million on a blockbuster 13-race program highlighted by the 148th renewal of the Grade 1, $ 1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets.
Saturday’s card will be televised nationally from 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 2 and from 4:30 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC. The final stakes race of the day, the post time for the Ballston Spa is 6:20 p.m. as Race 12, following the Travers.
Trainer Chad Brown is a two-time winner of the Ballston Spa, finishing first with Dacita in 2015 and Zagora in 2012. He will send out the trio of Sheep Pond Partners’ Lady Eli, Juddmonte Farms’ Antonoe and Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables and Bradley Thoroughbreds’ Roca Rojo.
Lady Eli was second by less than a length to 27-1 long shot Strike Charmer in last year’s Ballston Spa, her first race in nearly 14 months after recovering from a bout with laminitis. She has won three Grade 1 races since then, including the Diana July 22 at Saratoga, bringing her career total to five and boosting her career bankroll to more than $ 2.7 million from 12 starts.
Set to be offered as a broodmare prospect at the Keeneland November Sale, the 5-year-old mare by Divine Park was a late addition to the Ballston Spa field and has drawn the rail with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.
“The more I thought about it and the more I observed her works since the Diana, she’s looked super,” Brown said of his change of heart. “I’m staring at that lengthy layoff from the Diana going to the [Grade 1, $ 500,000 Flower Bowl on October 8 at Belmont Park] going a mile and a quarter and factoring in that it’s in the fall in New York. If it came up heavy ground or something, I’d really put myself in a box and it’s kind of a difficult position to be in with her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup. The more I thought about it and the clear forecast here on Saturday gives me the option to not run her again before the Breeders’ Cup if the conditions weren’t right.
“She came out of her last work great and she’s giving us a lot of the body language she gives us when she’s ready to run,” he added. “On top of all that, it’ll be great to run her at Saratoga one more time.”
Antonoe began her career in France before joining Brown in the spring, winning her first two North American starts, capped by the one-mile Just a Game on the undercard of the June 10 Belmont Stakes. She was steadied in traffic late and finished third, beaten a length, most recently in the Diana.
Irish-bred Roca Rojo hasn’t raced since finishing seventh in the Just a Game, her only other time worse than third in seven starts for Brown following her arrival from Europe. Fourth in the De La Rose last summer in her only previous try at Saratoga, she won the Grade 3 Athenia in October and was beaten a nose in her 2016 finale, the Grade 1 Matriarch, in December at Del Mar.
“I think the time off since the Just a Game has benefitted Roca Rojo. She’s freshened up a little bit. She’s put in a good string of works and I’m really happy with her,” Brown said. “With Antonoe, I think the cutback in distance from the Diana will benefit her. She won going a mile in the Just a Game, so I think a mile and a sixteenth should be fine for her.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano rides Antonoe from post 5 while Joel Rosario rides Roca Rojo from post 2.
Like Lady Eli, Phillips Racing Partnerships’ Time and Motion owns a win over the local course, having taken the Grade 2 Lake Placid at 1 1/8 miles last August for trainer Jimmy Toner, winner of the 1998 Ballston Spa with Memories of Silver.
A 4-year-old daughter of leading sire Tapit, Time and Motion enters the race off a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap July 8, contested at 1 3/16 miles at Arlington Park. She is winless in three starts this year after going five-for-seven with one second in 2016, winning the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Memories of Silver and Wonder Again – the latter two named for former Toner trainees.
“It was such a tough campaign last year for 3-year-old fillies and she ran hard all year,” Toner said. “We tried to freshen her up and bring her back and it just takes time for them to get back to that level to where they were before. She’s not running bad, but I still think there’s more there.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, her regular rider all last year through her third-place finish in the Grade 3 Beaugay May 13 at Belmont Park, will be back in the irons for Toner, who said he will also return to more successful tactics in the Ballston Spa. Time and Motion is $ 48,281 shy of the $ 1 million mark in career purse earnings. She will leave from post 3.
“We’re trying to re-start her. Last year we were chasing Catch a Glimpse and I was putting her in the races kind of early,” Toner said. “I kept doing it this year so this time we’re going to go back to basics, take her back and let her finish.
“I really think since she’s come up here she’s trained well and she’s happy. She’s doing very good,” Toner said. “Regardless of how well I think she’s doing, we still have our work cut out for us. It’s going to be a tough race.”
Godolphin Racing’s Dickinson looks to rebound from back-to-back Grade 1 losses in the Just a Game and Diana, the latter July 22 at Saratoga, in the Ballston Spa. She returns to the 1 1/16-mile distance of her most recent victory, a head triumph in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley April 15 at Keeneland.
“Probably between a mile and a mile and an eighth is her best distance, so we’re right there at a mile and a sixteenth,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “She’s doing very well and she looks good. Hopefully, she runs well and she wins.”
Dickinson, a daughter of Grade 1 winners Medaglia d’Oro and the McLaughlin-trained Little Belle, won five of her first six starts after being moved to the turf last fall, including the Grade 3 Suwannee River and Grade 2 Hillsborough over the winter in Florida.
She pressed the pace for more than a mile in 1 1/8-mile Diana before fading to fifth under Paco Lopez, who returns to ride from the outside post.
“She came out of the last race in good shape,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously we were disappointed with her performance but she just didn’t have a really strong day. She had a bad day but she only got beat four lengths. We just hope she rebounds but she’s doing great.”
Completing the field is Stuart S. Janney, III homebred On Leave with meet-leading rider Jose Ortiz up for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. The 4-year-old War Front daughter won last summer’s Riskaverse at Saratoga and the Grade 3 Sands Point last fall at Belmont, and is coming off a runner-up effort in the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose August 5.
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