Undefeated Burmilla steps into grade I company sporting the blue colors of Godolphin Racing for the first time in her career Aug. 26, when she heads to the post for the $250,000 Ballerina Breeders' Cup for fillies and mares at Saratoga.
Previously raced by Darley Stable, it's not unusual for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and his family – who own both racing and breeding operations – to make such a move with their best young runners. That certainly describes Burmilla, a 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat who has won the first four starts of her career, including Saratoga's Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II) Aug. 3 in front-running style by nearly three lengths.
The lightly raced filly should get an education as part of a salty group of 10 entered for the Ballerina, which is contested at seven furlongs.
Days after winning the Honorable Miss, Burmilla was moved from Eoin Harty’s barn, which includes Darley’s young runners, to Rick Mettee’s North American Godolphin barn.
For Harty, who was looking to defend his Ballerina title after winning the race last year with Darley’s Dubai Escapade, Burmilla’s transfer was not unexpected.
“I wasn’t surprised when she went over there,” Harty said. “That’s why they give me these horses – to find something that can run for Godolphin. It’s hard to say how good she really is because she keeps moving forward. The fact that she’s unbeaten is quite an impressive stat. She can come off the pace or run on the lead. She’s always found more when she needed to.”
Mettee has been with Godolphin for the last three years.
“Sheikh Mohammed and the Maktoum family want the best they have running in the blue silks,” Mettee said. “That is the way those horses have been in England and Dubai for years. Now that we’ve been here a couple of years, we are starting to see this.”
Burmilla is out of Nannerl, who was a multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter, including the 1993 Honorable Miss. She was third in the 1992 Ballerina.
In the Honorable Miss, Burmilla got away with easy half-mile splits and drew away under Rafael Bejarano, who rides her back. They start from the far outside post in the Ballerina.
“She seems to be going well since coming to our barn,” Mettee said. “I would have preferred to be in the fifth or sixth post, but Rafael didn’t think it would be a big deal where she would draw with her tactical speed. He thinks she can draw a perfect trip.”
Mike Pegram’s three-time grade I winner Pussycat Doll ships in from California, where she put in disappointing back-to-back runs over synthetic surface. The 5-year-old mare by Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner Real Quiet is proven at seven furlongs, taking the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) this year, the Humana Distaff (gr. I) in 2006, and the La Brea (gr. I) at 3.
“She couldn’t quite get her feet over the Polytrack surface,” said trainer Bob Baffert. Pussycat Doll was not a factor as the favorite in the Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) at Del Mar Aug. 17, so she's returning quickly.
“She’s tough at this distance and she’s quick,” Baffert said. “My concern is the inside post. She doesn’t like to be on the inside of the horses. I’m hoping she can overcome that here.”
Trainer Bobby Frankel and Indian Flare take another shot at Burmilla after finishing second in the Honorable Miss. A previous winner at Saratoga, Indian Flare won the Vagrancy Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont in June. Frankel is hoping for a better pace scenario in the Ballerina.
“Burmilla got away in (the Honorable Miss),” Frankel said. “She was let loose and no one went after her. I’m hoping for more speed in this race.”
Two 3-year-old fillies exit the Darley Test (gr. I) for this race: second-place finisher Boca Grande and third-place runner Baroness Thatcher.
$250,000 Ballerina Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:20 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Maryfield (ON), Elvis Trujillo, 119, 8/1
2. Pussycat Doll (KY), Kent J. Desormeaux, 122, 7/2
3. Indian Flare (KY), Javier Castellano, 119, 9/2
4. Swap Fliparoo (FL), Eibar Coa, 119, 12/1
5. Boca Grande (KY), Julien R. Leparoux, 115, 8/1
6. Baroness Thatcher (KY), Garrett K. Gomez, 113, 8/1
7. Nothing But Fun (KY), Cornelio H. Velasquez, 115, 20/1
8. Miraculous Miss (KY), Ramon A. Dominguez, 117, 10/1
9. Cherokee Jewel (KY), Alan Garcia, 115, 20/1
10. Burmilla (KY), Rafael Bejarano, 119, 3/1