Round Pond should be the favorite in Saturday's $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) on her home track at Oaklawn Park, but Louisiana trainer Andrew Leggio Jr., who saddles Happy Ticket, isn't ready to concede a thing.
Stewart Madison's Happy Ticket, a 5-year-old Louisiana-bred daughter of Anet, has won 11 of her 14 starts, with two second place finishes. She'll be starting at Oaklawn for the first time.
"Happy Ticket is better than ever," Leggio was saying at the barn Thursday morning. "I've read and heard a lot about Round Pond, and I'm sure she's all quality, but I wouldn't trade places with anyone."
Happy Ticket won last September's Ballerina (gr. I) in the mud at Saratoga and stepped up to the top of her class when a half-length behind the champion Ashado in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park late in the season.
The only time that Happy Ticket has finished worse than second was in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) last October at Belmont ... and she had a couple of legitimate excuses.
On the morning of the race, she banged her head against the stall wall and chipped a tooth. Leggio personally pulled the tooth.
Then in the race itself, her epiglottis became entrapped, making her unable to breathe properly. After making a strong middle move, she backed up to finish 11th of 13, beaten 30 lengths.
After a freshener, Happy Ticket returned to at Evangeline Downs late last month, coasting home by five lengths in the Louisiana Premiere Night Distaff under new rider Robby Albarado, who will ride her back in the Azeri.
As a 3-year-old last year, the John Servis-trained Round Pond captured the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn in a romp in April. The Fox Hill Farm filly capped a four-race winning streak by taking the Acorn (gr. I) at Belmont before going to the sidelines later in the summer with a knee chip.
The 4-year-old Awesome Again
filly comes to the Azeri off a powerful six furlong sprint effort, racing the distance in the season's fastest time, 1:09.4, over a dull strip. She will have regular rider Stewart Elliott in the irons on Saturday. She has won five of seven lifetime starts.
Round Pond and Happy Ticket should have good views of each other in the Azeri Breeders' Cup. They each have similar, up-close stalking styles, and Round Pond drew post one in the field of six, with Happy Ticket starting next door in post two.
"Happy Ticket galloped two miles," Leggio said, "and she seems to have no problem handling the track." $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:15 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/16 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Round Pond (KY), 113, Stewart Elliott
2. Happy Ticket (LA), 119, Robby Albarado
3. La Reason (KY), 117, Terry J. Thompson
4. Daddy's Petunia (KY), 113, Calvin H. Borel
5. Took Out (KY), 113, Donnie J. Meche
6. Platinum Ballet (KY), 115, M. Clifton Berry