Grade I winner Ermine will be looking to rebound from a disappointing effort in her last start when she leads a field of six fillies and mares into the Go For Wand Handicap (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
The race will also serve as a rematch of sorts for the likes of the Allen Jerkens-trained Miss Shop and Teammate and Bobby Frankel-trainee Ginger Punch, who most recently faced each other in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I). Ginger Punch finished second, beaten a neck, by winner Take d' Tour, while Miss Shop was fourth and Teammate tired to finish sixth in the 1 1/16-mile event.
The Go For Wand is part of the new Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" format in which the winner automatically qualifies for the (Emirates Airline) Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Monmouth Park Oct. 27.
The Ronny Werner-trained Ermine finished fourth in the Fleur De Lis Handicap (gr. II) June 16 at Churchill Downs after coming up empty during the stretch run.
Entering the Fleur De Lis, the 4-year-old daughter of Exchange Rate scored a 1 1/4-length win in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 7.
“She’s doing good, she shipped well,” Werner said. “She put in a good work the other day. Hopefully, we’ll improve off her last effort. It was a poor effort for her. I went over her and found nothing significant. Horses are like people, I guess, and people have bad days. That was her one bad day, I hope.”
To begin the year, Ermine traveled to the West Coast where she finished second in both the Santa Maria Handicap and the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap, both grade I.
Bred in Florida by Amy Bondon-Peltz, Ermine races for Art and Stephanie Preston's Oxbow Racing. She has a career record of 5-5-0 from 14 career starts and has earned $867,134.
The Jerkens-trained runners should prove to be a tough challenge for Ermine.
Teammate, a 4-year-old daughter of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, is the type of filly that makes a trainer like Jerkens dangerous. Last summer, as a 3-year-old, she showed little in three of Belmont Park’s more prestigious races for the division: the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks, all grade I.
But with about a month between races, she came back to run second in the grade I Alabama. She was solid in four subsequent starts, capped by a pair of wins, including a victory in the grade II Shuvee Handicap at Belmont Park.
Teammate was last in the Ogden Phipps Handicap, but has trained forwardly since.
“She worked a little slower than I wanted the other day,” Jerkens said. “She went five-eighths in :59, but when she came off the track, she was jumping around and feeling pretty good, so she might have thought she got away with something. But she’s pretty fit, so I just hope she runs her race.”
Miss Shop, a daughter of Deputy Minister, was also entered, but Jerkens said he might lean toward a return to the turf.
“Hey, I’m just trying to draw an inside straight – maybe I’ll enter her on the grass somewhere and hope they take it off,” said the 78-year-old trainer.
Teammate races as a homebred for Joseph Allen and has earned $501,276. She has a career record of 4-5-1 from 17 starts.
Miss Shop carries the homebred colors of Hobeau Farm and has earned $764,038. She has a record of 8-1-5 from 23 starts.
Frankel's Ginger Punch, bred and owned by Frank Stronach's Adena Springs, rebounded from her second-place effort in the Ogden Phipps to win the seven-furlong First Flight Handicap (gr. II) by five lengths. “I think she can do anything,” Frankel said of the daughter of Awesome Again . “I think she may have distance limitations. But, I still think she is the best horse in the race."
The field for the grade I Go For Wand Handicap includes:
1-- Soul Search (Robby Albarado, 115)
2-- Miss Shop (Javier Castellano, 115)
3-- Ermine (Eddie Castro, 119)
4-- Teammate (Cornelio Velasquez, 117)
5-- Ginger Punch (Rafael Bejarano, 117)
6-- Plaid (Shaun Bridgmohan, 117)