Favored Zagora found firm going much to her liking in capturing the $250,000 Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. IIT), presented by Jose Cuervo, in record time on the inner turf course Aug. 25 at Saratoga Race Course (VIDEO) .
Ridden expertly by Ramon Dominguez, the 3-2 choice in the field of eight older fillies and mares completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:39.07 while defeating Hungry Island by 1 1/2 lengths. The winning time lowered the course mark of 1:39.92 established by Leroidesanimaux in taking the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 27, 2005.
Zagora rebounded from a third-place finish in the Diana Stakes (gr. IT) over an inner course that was rated "good" July 28.
Chad Brown trains the French-bred Zagora, the 2011 Diana winner, for Martin S. Schwartz. The 5-year-old mare, bred by E. Puerari and Oceanic Bloodstock, is by Green Tune out of the Mtoto mare Zaneton.
"This filly had two really good works since the Diana; in hindsight, she probably needed the race," said Brown. "She loves Saratoga, especially when it’s firm. She just exploded today. Ramon rode her beautifully."
Grade I winner Summer Soiree, making her first start of the year for trainer Graham Motion, set a swift pace for Julien Leparoux. She skipped to a three-length advantage over Tapitsfly and Thundering Emilia in the opening half-mile while clipping off quarter-mile fractions of :23.70 and :46.35. Summer Soiree's pace rivals drew to within 1 1/2 lengths of the leader as they reached six furlongs in 1:09.44.
Zagora settled in mid-pack for Dominguez slightly off the hedge and progressed on the leaders rounding the final bend. She was full of run while reaching mid-stretch just one length behind Summer Soiree and took over soon after. She opened up by two lengths with a sixteenth of a mile to run and withstood a late charge from Hungry Island to win with some urging.
"I had an absolutely beautiful trip," said Dominguez, the Spa’s leading rider. "The filly with speed went at it, and I was able to sit back. When it was time, I went around, and she finished up very nicely for me."
Hungry Island, rallying from near the back of the pack for John Velazquez, was second by 3 3/4 lengths over the tiring Summer Soiree.
Zagora posted her fourth win in six starts in 2012. She earlier captured the Endeavor (gr. IIIT) and Hillsborough (gr. IIIT) stakes at Tampa Bay Downs this season, as well as the Gallorette Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Pimlico Race Course May 19. Zagora finished 4 3/4 lengths behind the now-retired Winter Memories in her Diana defense last time out.
"Down the backside, I was feeling pretty good," Brown said of the way the Ballston Spa unfolded. "She had a horse directly in front of her, but those fractions were pretty demanding. I knew she was ready to run. When he tipped her out, it was pretty much over.”
The $150,000 winner's share for the Ballston Spa pushed Zagora's career earnings to $1,168,589. She has compiled a record of 9-4-3 in 20 starts, including two wins in three tries at Saratoga.
Zagora paid $5, $3.30, $2.50. Hungry Island, fifth in the Diana, returned $4.10 and $2.80 while completing a $19 exacta. Summer Soiree paid $4.10 to show.