Stronach Stables' Spun Sugar notched her second grade I victory of the year with a gut-wrenching effort to defeat the outsider Balletto by a whisker in the $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Sunday.
Spun Sugar, on the inside with Mike Luzzi aboard, hooked up with Balletto and Javier Castellano after disposing of the pacesetters mid-stretch, and the two fillies staged a stirring battle through the final furlong.
Breaking from the rail and able to save ground all the way into the stretch, the daughter of Awesome Again
needed every inch of her shorter journey to defeat the determined Balletto, who closed on the outside as the longest shot in the field at odds of 11-1 in the six-horse field. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile test on a fast track was 1:49 4/5.
Spun Sugar was able to angle out slightly and find room between the pacesetters Pool Land and Take D' Tour, who were a little rubber-legged in the stretch after vying for the lead for a half-mile. Balletto, eased back to last for six furlongs, wound up from the inside while well off the pace on the final turn and was in full flight after swinging out four wide to overtake Spun Sugar. But she could not surge past. Instead, the two game fillies head-bobbed to the wire, with Spun Sugar prevailing by an official nose under strong left-handed urging.
The Ogden Phipps (gr. I) winner Take D' Tour, attempting to win her fifth straight race in a row and seeking her her first triumph around two turns, never got a break from Pool Land on her inside. After an opening quarter mile of :23 2/5, Pool Land and Garrett Gomez came to pressure Take D' Tour and Cornelio Velasquez through another :23 2/5 second quarter and a six-furlong split of 1:10 2/5. Pool Land wound up third, 6 1/2 lengths behind the winner, with Take D' Tour finishing fourth.
Oonagh Maccool, the 3-2 favorite, was well placed in third on the outside of Spun Sugar but faded out of contention in the stretch and finished last.
One of three 4-year-old fillies in the field trained by Todd Pletcher (along with Pool Land and Oonagh Maccool), Spun Sugar was 13 1/2 lengths behind Take D' Tour while finishing fourth in the one-turn Phipps.
Pletcher said the two turns helped Spun Sugar, and she also enjoyed a five-pound switch with Take D' Tour Sunday while carrying 118. In her previous race, Spun Sugar, ridden for the first time by Luzzi, won Oaklawn's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 8, defeating Happy Ticket by a neck.
"When I watched the replay, I knew it was super close," said Pletcher, who won the Go for Wand last year with Ashado. "This filly is so game. She kind of did the same thing at Oaklawn Park when she ran against Happy Ticket. When she gets in that situation, she fights. She was never happy in her last race. I think she's a better filly around two turns, and she showed what she's all about today."
"I knew in the first turn, she was taking the dirt," Luzzi said of being down inside. "I got the chance to just sit and relax. It was like Oaklawn all over again. She's a fighter"
Pletcher said the plan was to let Pool Land "run to the first turn and see what (Take D' Tour) would do. The other filly seemed content to sit next to her, and she never got in a situation where she could relax."
David Fawkes, trainer of the Florida invader Take D' Tour, didn't see it quite the same way.
"There was pressure on her the whole way," Fawkes said. "That's what (Pletcher) planned on doing, and it worked. It put him in the winner's circle. Take D' Tour ran a great race. We'll go back to Belmont Park. There are a couple races there for us."
The homebred Spun Sugar, out of the Irish Open mare Irish Cherry, won for the sixth time in 11 starts while increasing her earnings to $929,171.
Darley Stable's UAE-bred Balletto had lost to Take D' Tour in all three of her previous starts this year, including a third-place showing in the Phipps. She continues to make great strides for trainer Tom Albertrani after returning from a serious illness and a 17-month absence. A grade I winner at 2, the Go For Wand was her first attempt at two turns since her runner-up finish to Sweet Catomine in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Lone Star Park.
"She came back like her old self and ran with a lot of determination," Albertrani said. "She ran her heart out. It just came down to the bob at the wire."
The fourth choice, Spun Sugar paid $13, $6.40, and $4.40. Balletto returned $9.80 and $5.80, completing a $101.50 exacta. Pool Land was $4.70 to show.
Take D' Tour, Nothing But Fun, and Oonagh Maccool trailed.
"(Oonagh Maccool's race) was disappointing," Pletcher said. "We'll check her over when she comes back. That wasn't her. She's a much better filly than that."