Mistical Plan, owned by J. Paul Reddam, comes off the biggest win of her career, a 5 3/4-length upset in the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) at Calder Race Course July 12. With a victory here the 4-year-old California-bred daughter of Game Plan could emulate O'Neill's Maryfield, who used a nose victory over Baroness Thatcher a year ago as a springboard to her 2007 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint win by a half-length over Miraculous Miss on a sloppy track at Monmouh Park.
The winner of the seven-furlong Ballerina, which has attracted a strong field of eight, gains a spot in the Filly & Mare Sprint as part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge.
“The Ballerina is a big race; it means a lot, especially if you are trying to get a horse to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint,” O’Neill said. “I’m excited to be in the Ballerina with Mistical Plan.”
In the six-furlong Princess Rooney, Mistical Plan pressed the heavy favorite Dream Rush for the opening quarter-mile before taking over leaving the backstretch and drawing away in the lane to defeat runner-up Miraculous Miss, who returns in the Ballerina as well.
“That was a phenomenal race,” O’Neill said. “She had been training well up to the Princess Rooney. While she has proven to be versatile by running long and short, I think she has shown her brilliance in sprinting.”
The Princess Rooney was Mistical Plan’s first win in four starts since coming off a near-year layoff. As a 3-year-old in 2007, Mistical Plan won the 1 1/16-mile Fair Ground Oaks (gr. II) and the Sunshine Millions Oaks at six furlongs.
“There was nothing seriously wrong with her; she wasn’t injured,” O'Neill said. “She was a tired horse and she needed time to recover.”
Jockey Cornelio Velasquez, who was aboard for her third-place finish in Belmont Park’s Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) June 14, will ride Mistical Plan in the Ballerina.
“The game plan is to have her start running and get her in a good position,” O’Neill said. “She doesn’t necessarily need the lead.”
Another California-based 4-year-old running in the Ballerina is Tom Grether Farm’s Intangaroo. The Orientate filly has proven herself this season with grade I wins on both dirt and synthetic surfaces in the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs and Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita, both at seven furlongs.
“I am glad she can handle both surfaces,” trainer Gary Sherlock said. “When she won the Humana Distaff, it made our plans easier to find races leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. Also, if she wins the Ballerina, she gets another grade I win that should put her ahead in the division.”
Intangaroo, who shares high weight of 122 pounds with Mistical Plan, is coming off a fourth-place finish in Hollywood Park's A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) June 28.
“She didn’t run a bad race; she had no chance in that race,” Sherlock said. “There was a speed bias that day and there was no speed to go with (winner) Dearest Trickski. I am hoping she gets a good pace to run at in the Ballerina.”
Alonso Quinonez, who was an apprentice rider last year, has won three of five races with Intangaroo in 2008 and will be aboard once again.
Stronach Stables' Sugar Swirl, a winner of five her last six starts for trainer Bobby Frankel, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Her only loss in that span came in a tiring fifth-place finish in the Humana Distaff, in which she finished 6 1/2 lengths behind Intangaroo.
Trainer Steve Klesaris brings multiple graded stakes winner Miraculous Miss back for the Ballerina, in which she was third last year. The 5-year-old mare has not won in nearly two years, losing 10 in a row, but has been competitive against the best sprinters, male and female.
After nearly pulling off a 43-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, Miraculous Miss rallied for a third-place finish, beaten just less than four lengths, to Benny the Bull in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I).
“It just seems there is always someone who is better that day," said Klesaris, who is part owner with Puglisi Racing. "Still, she’s a fun horse to be around.”
Leah's Secret won the Chicago Handicap (gr. III) last time out at Arlington Park for trainer Todd Pletcher. Jibboom, a second entrant for Frankel, upset the Raven Run (gr. II) at Keeneland two starts back. Baroness Thatcher is winless in 2008 for Bill Mott and has just one victory in 15 starts since the start of her 2007 campaign. Multiple graded stakes winner Bayou's Lassie should set the pace from her far outside post position.
$250,000 Ballerina Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, 5:56 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Intangaroo (KY), Alonso Quinonez, 122, 5/1
2. Sugar Swirl (ON), Javier Castellano, 119, 2/1
3. Leah's Secret (FL), John R. Velazque, 117, 12/1
4. Baroness Thatcher (KY), Kent J. Desormeaux, 117, 10/1
5. Mistical Plan (CA), Cornelio H. Velasquez, 122, 5/2
6. Jibboom (KY), Edgar S. Prado, 117, 12/1
7. Miraculous Miss (KY), Ramon A. Dominguez, 115, 5/1
8. Bayou's Lassie (FL), Julien R. Leparoux, 117, 15/1