Returning to the scene of her greatest success, Lady Tak won Sunday's Ballerina Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course, barely holding off My Trusty Cat by a head in the final strides.
Tiring in the final 100 yards after a leading at a track-record pace for three-quarters of a mile (1:07 4/5), Lady Tak survived a steward's inquiry into the final sequence of the seven-furlong test for fillies and mares. Lady Tak, in front of Harmony Lodge while racing at the rail, came out slightly under late left-handed urging from Jerry Bailey and there was contact as My Trusty Cat, ridden by John Velazquez, attempted to squeeze between.
"My filly got really strong around the far turn," Bailey said. "She was pulling me out of the saddle. So I went ahead and let her go with it. I know seven eighths is really a stretch for her even though she was that impressive in the Test. As soon as those horses got to her throat she just gave it another surge."
Lady Tak, who captured the Test (gr. I) for trainer Steve Asmussen by 4 1/2 lengths in July 2003 at Saratoga, is perfect on the track in two grade I starts. She went over the $1 million mark in career earnings with the victory.
"You can tell that it showed up a little bit," Asmussen said of the pace. "Jerry said she had a little left and he let her know they were coming. She has a lot of speed and the rail and Saratoga are a good combination.
"I think it's naturally where she wants to be and she cuts the corner very well here. This was her target all year. We were very tempted to run her in the Ballerina off of her Test last year. We passed it trying to be three-year-old champion filly because I thought the door was open at that point. I've been second-guessing that decision ever since we didn't run in this race last year."
The final time, 1:21, was three-fifths of a second off the seven-eighths track mark. Lady Tak was the 4-5 favorite in a field of seven.
Harmony Lodge, ridden by Richard Migliore, was a head behind My Trusty Cat in third.
Lady Tak overtook Harmony Lodge shortly away from the gate and set a lively clip – :22 1/5, :44 2/5) without being asked while Harmony Lodge stayed in close pursuit. The 4-year-old Mutkaddim filly began to pull away, leading by about three lengths after the record-breaking six furlong split. But headed for a commanding win, she tired visibly in deep stretch and My Trusty Cat closed resolutely on the outside to nearly pull off the upset.
Bailey said he thought that My Trusty Cat may have bumped Lady Tak in the rear and changed her path slightly.
"When you do that it turns the front end in a little bit which compounds the problem a little bit," Bailey said.
"Two jumps past the wire, she's a length in front," said David Vance, trainer of My Trusty Cat. "She was coming late in the last 40 yards and she needed some running room. It's the stewards' call, it's not my call. That's the way racing goes.
"The track was not suited for her running style," Vance added. "I was concerned about that. Also, it was too hot and humid for her. Still, she overcame a lot for a good finish. She ran another big race."
The Florida-bred Lady Tak won for the third time in her last four starts. She came out of the Princess Rooney (gr. II) at Calder July 4, where she finished third, 5 3/4 lengths behind Ema Bovary.
Lady Tak earned $150,000 for owners Heiligbrodt Stables, and has now won nine of 16 career tries with total earnings of $1,019,602.
Asmussen said there's no set plan for Lady Tak
"This is what we wanted her to establish, a grade I again this year and putting her over $1 million. No we'll just be thankful for this one, look at her closely and make another plan."
Bred by John Franks from the dam Star of My Eye (Lucky North), Lady Tak was sold for $75,000 at the Keeneland April sale in 2002.
The winner paid $3.20, $2.70 and $2.20. My Trusty Cat returned $4 and $2.80 and Harmony Lodge was $2.90. The exacta was worth $15.40.
Molto Vida, Smok'n Frolic, Final Round and My Boston Girl followed.