By the time trainer Mark Hennig gives jockey John Velazquez a leg up on Raging Fever in Sunday's Ballerina Handicap (gr. I), Hennig, Velazquez and owner Edward P.Evans could be nearing the end of an unforgettable Saratoga weekend. All they need is a little racing luck.
On Friday, the owner/trainer/jockey combination went with Summer Colony, the likely favorite, in the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I). Though Hennig and Evans don't have a player in Saturday's big one, the 133rd running of the $1 million Travers, they figure to have a say in the day's other grade 1 race, the $200,000 King's Bishop. There, they team up with Gygistar, a gelding who figures no worse than second choice in the seven-furlong dash.
Then there's Raging Fever, Hennig and Evans' Ballerina entrant. A daughter of Storm Cat, Raging Fever was one of the fastest 2-year-olds in training in 2000. When the big money was on the line in New York, she had a knack for bringing home the top prize. With more than half of her 4-year-old campaign behind her, little has changed.
Eight fillies and mares were entered in the $250,000 Ballerina at seven furlongs. It will go as race nine on Sunday's 10-race card. ESPN will televise the Ballerina live starting at 5:00 p.m. EDT. Raging Fever, a four-time graded stakes winner this year, enters the Ballerina off an extended eight-week freshening. Her last start, a victory in Belmont's Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) in late June, proved how good she really is.
Though Raging Fever was the class of the Phipps, many questioned her stamina going 1 1/16 miles. The one-time unrateable sprinter proved her skeptics wrong that afternoon, as she sat comfortably behind horses before jockey John Velazquez tipped her outside of horses at the quarter pole. Raging Fever determinedly held off a late run from Transcendental, winning at a distance she had failed at as the favorite in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
"It was nice to see her get that win," Hennig said. "She definitely has an affinity for Belmont. She's been very special for us. She's been more settled and you don't have to worry about her not kicking in. She's a quality filly whose been underrated most of her life. It was good to see her go over the $1-million mark in earnings and win another grade 1."
The scary thing is, Raging Fever may be more of a danger at distances ranging from six-to-eight furlongs. Combine that with her new found ability to sit behind horses, and you've got a filly that's dangerous from anywhere in the pack.
"I think she can sprint with the best of them," said Hennig of Raging Fever, who has notched seven of her 10 lifetime victories at a mile and under. "She's a pretty darn good sprinter."
Raging Fever, the Ballerina highweight at 121 pounds, breaks from post 6. She has worked five times since her Ogden Phipps triumph. Steeplechase Farm's Mandy's Gold defeated Ballerina rivals Shine Again and Nasty Storm in the August 2nd Honorable Miss here at the Spa and looks like the one to catch for trainer Mike Gorham. A 4-year-old filly, Mandy's Gold enters the Ballerina looking for her fifth consecutive victory.
"She really likes it up here," Gorham said. "Edgar (Prado) breezed her on Sunday (four furlongs on the Saratoga main track in :47 3/5) and I think she's doing better now than she was going into the Honorable Miss. She's getting better."
Mandy's Gold's set a torrid pace of :22 and :44.80 in the Honorable Miss and maintained her 1 1/2-length lead over Shine Again in the stretch. She completed the six-furlong race run over the sloppy track in 1:09.20.
"We know she's very, very good at six furlongs," Gorham said. "I'm not concerned going seven on Sunday. She's two-for-two. It's going to be a tough race. There isn't one throw out in there."
Mandy's Gold, the likely second choice in the Ballerina, has finished in front and behind Raging Fever. Back in March of 2001, Mandy's Gold went gate-to-wire in a minor stakes at Gulfstream Park. Raging Fever ran second. Last January, Raging Fever turned the tables on Mandy's Gold, defeating her in Gulfstream's First Lady (gr. III)
"It should be a good battle," Gorham said. "We've beaten her. She's beaten us."
Bohemia Stable's Shine Again, the defending Ballerina champion, could not reel in Mandy's Gold in the Honorable Miss but may have an edge over that rival at seven furlongs. A daughter of Wild Again, Shine Again is undefeated in two starts at seven furlongs and goes out for Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens. Jockey Jean-Luc Samyn has the mount.
The Field for the Ballerina Handicap (gr. I), 3-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, seven furlongs
PP HORSE JOCKEY WGT.
1 Cat and the Hat Shaun Bridgmohan 115
2 Devastating James McKnight 115
3 Shine Again Jean-Luc Samyn 116
4 Sweet Nanette Craig Perret 115
5 Mandy's Gold Edgar Prado 118
6 Raging Fever John Velazquez 121
7 Nasty Storm Pat Day 115
8 Trip Mark Guidry 114