The Louisiana invader Happy Ticket made short work of the field in Sunday's $250,000 Ballerina (gr. I) for fillies and mares at muddy Saratoga Race Course, pulling away in the final furlong for her 10th win in 11 career starts.
John Velazquez, who won Saturday's Travers (gr. I) aboard Flower Alley, guided the 2-1 choice Happy Ticket past the pacesetting Forest Music on the outside and pulled away from a tiring Molto Vita inside the final eighth to win by 5 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong time of 1:24 2/5 in muddy going. It was Happy Ticket's first race against grade I company.
Pleasant Home, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, closed the best of the rest of pick up second, three-quarters of a length in front of Molto Vita and Rafael Bejarano.
Happy Ticket, a 4-year-old homebred daughter of Anet-Love and Happiness (by Septieme Ciel) won the first nine races of her career, including the Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Arlington in June. She suffered her only loss in her next start in Calder's Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. II) July 10, which was her last appearance prior to the Ballerina. Happy Ticket had a nightmare trip that day and finished 5 1/4 lengths behind the brilliant Madcap Escapade.
The bay filly won in her first try on an off-track Sunday and improved to three-for-three at the seven-furlong distance for trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. Happy Ticket earned $150,000 for owner/breeder Stewart M. Madison to increase her career bankroll to $632,260.
"We targeted this race after the race in Chicago," Leggio said. "I was looking for a seven-furlong race because that seems like it might be her trait. We'll stretch her out when the time comes."
Leggio said he fitted Happy Ticket with a severe bit, which has a piece of metal underneath the jaw, to break her habit of drifting out.
"I told John to give her plenty of head coming out of the gate," he said. "He did a perfect job on her. I was concerned about the track because she has never run on a muddy track. When the mud starts hitting them in the face, they could stop."
Velazquez opted to ride Happy Ticket over the speedy Forest Music, whom he steered to a two-length win in the Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II) at Saratoga Aug. 5.
With Jerry Bailey aboard, Forest Music dueled for the lead coming away from the gate from the extreme outside with Molto Vita. She set quick fractions under the conditions of :22 and :45 but never got the chance to relax as Vision of Beauty and Edgar Prado turned on the pressure. When tackled by Happy Ticket and Molto Vita in the stretch, Forest Music offered little resistance and fell back to finish sixth.
Happy Ticket was always close to the pace while in hand and was rolling through the lane after advancing three wide on the turn. She won under steady handling from Velazquez.
"She broke perfectly and I was where I wanted to be on the backside," Velazquez said. "I called on her at the three-eighths pole, and she was going well. I couldn't have asked for a better trip."
While Leggio charmed the fans with his Cajun accent, he was still concerned about his family in New Orleans. Weather reports had Hurricane Katrina, which had been upgraded to Category 5 status, to hit the "Crescent City" by Monday.
"(Happy Ticket) is supposed to leave tomorrow at 7 o'clock," Leggio said. "I've got all my family in New Orleans, and it doesn't look good right now. All my kids got in the car, and they're headed to Shreveport now, about 10 of them. So, that's where I'm at – worrying about the kids right now."
She paid $6, $3.80, and $3.10. Pleasant Home, who was seeking to give trainer Shug McGaughey a sixth win in the Ballerina, returned $5.60 and $4.90 while completing a $40.80 exacta. Molto Vita was $6.10 to show.
"She broke really fast, and I tried to keep her in good position going around the turn," Rafael Bejarano said of Molto Vita. "When I asked her to run at the three-eighths pole, she was coming strong, but Happy Ticket was too much for us."
Bank Audit, Vision of Beauty, Forest Music, and My Trusty Cat completed the order.