After finishing second in Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) two years ago, Balletto returns to the Breeders' Cup, this time in the Emirates Airline Distaff (gr.I). She's the 6-1 third choice on the morning line, behind favored Fleet Indian, who has put together an impressive eight-race win streak, and 3-year-old Pine Island.
But the one-two punch of those talented runners might not be the biggest obstacle between Balletto and a Breeders' Cup victory, according to her trainer, Tom Albertrani. Instead of being beaten by other horses, he explained Thursday morning at Churchill Downs, Balletto sometimes beats herself.
The problem is how slowly the 4-year-old daughter of Timber Country changes leads late in her races.
"In the, morning she's perfect," Albertrani said. "But even as a 2-year-old, she was always reluctant to change her lead to the right lead at the top of the lane in the afternoon. Because she has that tendency of just wanting to hesitate a little bit in her races, it causes her to lose that momentum she needs that makes the difference between losing and winning by a head or so. It might have cost her a couple of races this year."
In her six 2006 starts, Balletto has four runner-up finishes, but no wins. The Darley Stable homebred missed victory by only a nose when beaten by Spun Sugar in the Go For Wand Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, and she lost by only a head to Fleet Indian in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I).
With the Distaff only two days away, Albertrani still hasn't figured out how to get Balletto to make a smoother transition on a consistent basis.
"It seems like in the morning we do all we can," Albertrani said. "But it really comes down to her and the rider, and whether he's got her balanced enough and whether he just gets her in the right position and gets her head straightened out enough where she'll change over."
Maybe having jockey Corey Nakatani back on board for the Distaff will make a difference. In the only other time he has ridden Balletto before, she defeated Ready's Gal by three-quarters of a length in the 2004 Frizette Stakes (gr. I).
"I can't remember when Corey rode her in the Frizette whether he got along with her and she changed over a little quicker," Albertrani said. "But I'll talk to him about it. I'm sure he's watched her races, and I'm sure he knows about it. But it's really all up to her. I think it's just a matter of her focusing on the fact that when she turns for home, she's going want to try to balance herself back to her right lead. Hopefully, she'll do the right thing Saturday because when it happens, she finds something extra."
Balletto has the far outside post position in the $2-million Distaff's field of 14 fillies and mares, but Albertani doesn't think the spot will be much of a disadvantage.
"I'm not too worried," he said. "I think she's just going to break and tuck in mid-field somewhere. With her, I don't think it's really that important that she was left on the outside. It shouldn't really bother her. But I probably would have preferred to have had my post positions reversed."