Better Lucky, a dual grade I winner on turf who won her first start on dirt in more than two years last month at Saratoga Race Course, returns to the upstate New York oval for the $500,000 Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 23.
The seven-furlong race for fillies and mares is one of three grade I events on Saratoga's main track Saturday, and immediately precedes the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (gr. I). Nine are entered in the Ballerina, race 11 with a 5:08 p.m. EDT scheduled post, including champion My Miss Aurelia and four New-York breds.
The Ballerina and the Travers will be broadcast live on NBC as a part of the "Summer at Saratoga: Breeders' Cup Challenge Series" beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET. The winner of the Ballerina earns an expense-paid starting berth for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) as part of the Cup's "Win & You're In" promotion.
Godolphin Racing's Better Lucky rallied from 12 lengths back to snatch Saratoga's seven-furlong Shine Again Stakes July 21 by a head over Grace Hall, with My Miss Aurelia half a length farther back in third. It was the 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare's first appearance on dirt since winning an allowance/optional race at Belmont Park in May 2012.
Better Lucky switched to turf in her next start, winning the Sands Point (gr. IIT). That was followed by placings in the Lake George (gr. IIT) an Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) before winning the Matriarch (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park. In 2013, the bay mare won the First Lady Stakes (gr. IT) while placing in the Jenny Wiley (gr. IT), Longines Just a Game (gr. IT), and Matriarch.
Her switch to dirt this season for trainer Tom Albertrani came after a runner-up finish in the Madison (gr. I) on the Keeneland Polytrack in in April and an eighth-place finish in the Just a Game. Better Lucky, who is 4-1 on the morning line for the Ballerina, has won three of six overall on the dirt.
"We felt like we've accomplished enough with her on the grass—she's won two grade Is—that if she takes back to the dirt as we saw in the Shine Again, the Ballerina would be a logical race to try her back," Albertrani said. "She's been training as well as I've ever seen her."
Javier Castellano, who rode her in the Shine Again, has the call from post 2. Better Lucky carries the co-high weight assignment of 119 pounds.
My Miss Aurelia, the 3-1 early line pick, makes her second start back on the comeback trail after a layoff of more than 16 months for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Stonestreet Stables star was bumped twice near the eighth pole in the Shine Again but finished encouragingly.
"I think (the Shine Again), hopefully, will move her forward," Pletcher said. "I thought she ran hard that day. It was a long time since she'd run, and the complexion of the race forced us to get her involved early. I think she needed that run, so I've been pleased with the way she's trained. I thought her last breeze was particularly good and, hopefully, an indication she's in top form for this."
Previously trained by Steve Asmussen, the 5-year-old Smart Strike mare is looking for her first win since taking the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) at Parx Racing in September 2012. John Velazquez is back aboard My Miss Auerelia, the nation's Eclipse Award winner as outstanding 2-year-old filly in 2011. They break from post 4 with a feathery 115 pounds.
The quartet of New York-breds begins with grade I winner Artemis Agrotera (5-1), who signaled her return to form with a 10 1/4-length romp over restricted company in an allowance/optional claiming race at seven furlongs July 23. Chester and Mary Broman's 3-year-old Roman Ruler filly captured the Frizette (gr. I) at 2, followed by a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
In her only other start this year, Artemis Agrotera weakened to eighth in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont June 7. The Mike Hushion trainee has the rail with Rajiv Maragh riding for the first time.
"I just decided that, in my opinion, she fits very well in the race," Hushion said, "and for a grade I for all that money, it's time to go while she's good. If she wasn't rounding out to her old-time form, I don't think she would have run as well as she did (last time) no matter who she was running against."
Lady Sheila Stable's La Verdad (7-2) had a four-race winning streak—including the Distaff Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack in April—snapped in a fifth-place effort in Saratoga's Honorable Miss (gr. II) last time. The New York-bred daughter of Yes It's True had won nine of 10 including several in open company. Her loss in the Honorable Miss at six furlongs July 28 as the favorite was over a sloppy track and she was stuck on the rail.
La Verdad, also toting 119 pounds, is in post 6 this time with Jose Ortiz aboard. She is probably the fastest of several that like to be forwardly placed in the Ballerina lineup.
"Everything went poorly, and she still wound up beaten only three lengths," trainer Linda Rice said of La Verdad's last race. "So, we'll forgive her. I think that seven-eighths may not be her best distance. I rather it be six or 6 1/2, but she's come out of the race very well and she breezed excellently the other day. How many grade Is do you have for fillies and mares sprinting?"
Bed o' Roses (gr. III) winner Hot Stones (6-1) gets back to sprinting after finishing third behind Antipathy in the Shuvee Handicap (gr. III) in her most recent effort July 27 on a muddy Saratoga strip. Bruce Levine trains the Empire State-bred daughter of Bustin Stones for Roddy Valente and partners.
Also part of the New York-bred group is Willet (6-1), coming off a four-length romp in the Dancing Renee at six furlongs July 30 at Saratoga. The 6-year-old Jump Start mare also won the Union Avenue at Saratoga last year.
New Jersey-bred Geeky Gorgeous has the outside post for owner/trainer Daniel Lopez, getting a big vote of confidence following her 4 1/2-length tally in the listed Regret Stakes at Monmouth Park July 26.
Other stepping up are Gulfstream Park shipper Kipling's Joy, second in the Pasaena Stakes July 5, and first-time stakes runner Voodoo Tales, whose two most recent scores over lesser at Belmont were by a combined 16 lengths.
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 23, 2014, Race 11
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Artemis Agrotera (NY) Rajiv Maragh 115 Michael E. Hushion - 2 2Better Lucky (KY) Javier Castellano 119 Thomas Albertrani - 3 3Kipling's Joy (KY) Junior Alvarado 115 Martin D. Wolfson - 4 4My Miss Aurelia (KY) John R. Velazquez 115 Todd A. Pletcher - 5 5Willet (NY) Joel Rosario 115 James H. Iselin - 6 6La Verdad (NY) Jose L. Ortiz 119 Linda Rice - 7 7Voodoo Tales (FL) Manuel Franco 115 Nicholas Esler - 8 8Hot Stones (NY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 117 Bruce N. Levine - 9 9Geeky Gorgeous (NJ) Angel Serpa 115 Daniel J. Lopez -
Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 23, 2014, Race 11