Balletto, Fleet Indian Square Off in Personal Ensign

(Edited NYRA Release)
It's seldom that horses come out of retirement. And even more seldom that they come out of retirement and regain the form that they once had. Now Balletto, a grade I winner as a 2-year-old, is one of those horses trying to make a comeback off retirement.

Owned by Darley Stable, Balletto is searching for her first victory in nearly two years as she challenges Fleet Indian and three others in Friday's $400,000 Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga.

Trainer Tom Albertrani is expected to have a busy weekend by not only saddling Balletto in the Personal Ensign, but heavily favored Bernardini in Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes (gr. I), presented by the New York Lottery. As part of the Travers undercard, Albertrani is also expected to run Songster in the King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

Balletto was the first United Arab Emirates-bred to win a North American grade I race, taking the Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park. She later finished second to eventual Eclipse winner Sweet Catomine in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Within a month of coming back to North America from a winter break in Dubai, Balletto was stricken with colic. The corrective surgery, which wasn't as invasive as expected, initially retired the filly.

Not long after the surgery, Balletto showed dramatic improvement. Instead of having Balletto become a broodmare, Sheikh Mohammed wanted her to race again as a 4-year-old once she was cleared by veterinarians late last summer.

"It wasn't that severe," Albertrani said about the colic. "When they got her down to surgery, they were able to massage the impaction through. They didn't have to cut any of the intestines. It gave her a lot better chance. Luckily, there were no complications from the colic. After she was fully recovered, Sheikh Mohammed decided to run her as an older filly."

Getting Balletto back to training wasn't as easy of a task as Albertrani had expected. Being away for 17 months made Balletto unfocused each time she went on the track to train or race. In her return race earlier this year at Gulfstream Park, Balletto was a distant fourth.

"She wasn't training to what she was like as a 2-year-old; she wasn't focused," Albertrani said. "Being away for so long, she was so laid back. I thought she would need that race at Gulfstream to get her mind focused again."

After a short break off her Gulfstream Park race, Balletto started showing improvement with a second in the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont. However, she was unable to keep that momentum going into the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I), as she was a distant third. In her next start, Balletto was beaten a nose in the July 30 Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga.

"That was the main target for her since the spring," Albertrani said about bringing Balletto to Saratoga. "We thought having her run two turns would make the difference, and it has. The distance and same pace scenario should be the key for her in the Personal Ensign. Hopefully, she'll be closing again. It would be nice to win a grade I with her again."

Fleet Indian, who goes into the race with a six-race win streak, has established herself as not only the top New York-bred, but as a leading contender in the fillies and mares division for owner Paul Saylor and trainer Todd Pletcher.

The 5-year-old mare stepped it up another level since being moved to Pletcher's barn in late January. After winning the Next Move Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct and the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) at Hawthorne, Fleet Indian became a millionaire in winning the $1,000,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. II).

"We didn't necessarily guess she was going to reel off four in a row and win a $1 million race," said Pletcher. "She was a nice filly who had a good record before we got her. We're hoping to keep her in the right direction."

Pletcher is hoping her experience at the Personal Ensign distance and her running style will carry her from gate to wire in her first grade I attempt.

"I don't know if it's more of a stern test than what she has faced," Pletcher said. "We try to focus on what she has done best, which was a mile-and-an-eighth and a mile-and-a-quarter races, and give her plenty of time in between races. She has got that quality where she can continue that same pace,:48 and 1:12, over a long distance of ground. I think her and Balletto are the horses to beat here."

The others expected to start in the Personal Ensign are India Halo, Soul Search, and Yolanda B. Too. India Halo, an Argentine-bred, is a stakes winner at Calder Race Course this year. She won last year's Ladies Handicap (gr. III) at 1 1/4 miles Aqueduct.

Yolanda B. Too also figures to get some support. From three starts this year, she sports two wins at Belmont and a close second in the Ashado Stakes at Saratoga.

$400,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I)

Post Horse Trainer Jockey Weight
1 Balletto, Tom Albertraini, Javier Castellano, 116
2 Yolanda B. Too, Richard Violette Jr., Garrett Gomez, 116
3 Soul Search, Neil Howard, John Velazquez, 116
4 India Halo, Tim Ritvo, Jose Espinoza, 116
5 Fleet Indian, Todd Pletcher, Jose Santos, 118