Paul Saylor's Fleet Indian gamely held off a late challenge from Balletto for a narrow victory in Saturday's Beldame Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park in a key prep for the Nov. 4 Emirates Airlines Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).
The victory was sixth of the year in as many starts for the 5-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie
, who now has an eight-win victory streak going, which began with Aqueduct's Montauk Handicap in November of 2005.
The Beldame also provided trainer Todd Pletcher with a new seasonal earnings record for a trainer and marked his 88th stakes win this year, four short of D. Wayne Lukas' seasonal record.
Take D'Tour assumed the early lead in the Beldame, carrying the field through the first six furlongs in fractions of :23 4/5, :46 1/5, and 1:10 1/5 while pursued alternately by Round Pound and Teammate.
Fleet Indian, ridden by Jose Santos, was laying fourth until making her move rounding the turn in the one-turn 1 1/8-mile contest and took command coming out of the turn into the stretch. As Fleet Indian continued to lead the field in mid-stretch, Balletto unleashed a strong finish to pose a challenge before the winner dug in and held off the late charge. The final margin was a head in a final time of 1:48 3/5.
Bred in New York by Thomas/Lakin, Fleet Indian has won 13 of 18 starts, with one third, while earning $1,404,513. Previous to the Beldame, she posted a 4 ¼-length triumph over Balletto in the Personal Ensign (gr. I). She paid $3.80, $2.40, and $2.20. Balletto was worth $2.90 and $2.40, with Round Pond paying $2.50 for third.
"She has been so dominant," Pletcher said. "What we were hoping to find out today - which will help us in the Breeders' Cup - is that she can sit off horses and dig in. She showed that today. We figured she wasn't going to get beyond the lead. She seems to adapt to it real well. She sat behind those horses and took dirt. It looked like she might be getting late when that other filly (Balletto) was getting to her, but she dug back in and galloped out strong."
"My filly has such a long stride, and she wants to be close to the pace," Santos said. "She didn't break that well today because she lunged leaving the gate. But by the quarter-pole, I was in good shape. It looked like Balletto was going to go by her, but we could go once more around and I don't think she was going to go by her. The way the race was shaping up, it was a lot better for a closer like Balletto, but I will say that this filly [Fleet Indian] will overpower this group. Even though she is a New York-bred, she's got the heart of a lion."
"It was another good effort from her," trainer Tom Albertrani of the Balletto's runner-up finish. "It was another close race for her. Fleet Indian just dug in again once Balletto got close to her. We're still going to head to the Breeders' Cup Distaff, if she comes out of it well."