There certainly aren’t many speed horses entered in the $500,000 Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) on Saturday at Saratoga, which means that the pace of the seven-furlong race could be on the slow side.
It might not be as slow as last year, when By the Moon got away with turtle-like fractions of :24.05 and :47.81 on her way to a gate-to-wire victory, but with #5 Finley’sluckycharm looming as the only true front-runner in the Ballerina field, closers could be at a disadvantage in this “Win and You’re In” prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I).
In that scenario, Finley’sluckycharm would obviously be the one to catch. Trained by Bret Calhoun, the daughter of Twirling Candy won the six-furlong Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II) at Saratoga last month by 2 ¼ lengths, an effort that marked the seventh stakes victory of her career. Furthermore, I loved her effort in the seven-furlong Madison Stakes (gr. I) three starts back, in which she battled for the lead through testing fractions of :21.96 and :44.31 before holding on gamely to win by a nose.
But Finley’sluckycharm will face some talented rivals in the Ballerina, including the 5-2 morning line favorite #7 Marley’s Freedom, who ships in from California for the powerful team of trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith. The four-year-old daughter of Blame has won her last three starts in impressive fashion, a streak that includes a blowout 7 ¼-length triumph in the Desert Stormer Stakes (gr. III) (for which she earned a 107 BRIS speed figure) and a convincing score in the Great Lady M Stakes (gr. II).
At first glance, Marley’s Freedom doesn’t seem like a speed horse—she actually rallied from last place in the Great Lady M—but take note, she’s been involved in some pretty fast-paced races, and she won a couple of lower-level sprints last fall in gate-to-wire fashion. I think she has enough tactical speed to secure a forwardly-placed position in the Ballerina, and the way she finished up in the Great Lady M (earning a 104 BRIS Late Pace rating) suggests that she’ll be tough to hold off in the final furlong. It’s also worth noting that Baffert has won with five of his last 11 starters at Saratoga, a 45% success rate.
#6 Lewis Bay, who finished just a head behind Finley’sluckycharm in the Madison, is another contender to consider based off her easy win in the seven-furlong Bed o’ Roses Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park, for which she earned a 108 BRIS speed figure. The rest of the runners would likely need to step up a notch to contend for victory.
With that in mind, I won’t get too creative with my bets. Here’s how I would play the race: