Jockey John Velazquez turned Ashado loose in the upper stretch, and the champion filly demolished the field in Sunday's $245,000 Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) before a crowd of 51,982 at Saratoga Race Course.
Ashado, who took the Eclipse Award last year as the nation's top 3-year-old filly for trainer Todd Pletcher, ascended to the top of the older filly and mare division with her second consecutive grade I win. Facing four opponents, this one was easy as they come.
The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Saint Ballado defeated outsider Bending Strings by 9 1/2 lengths, with the pacesetter Andujar settling for third. Ashado stopped the clock in 1:50 1/5.
Velazquez said his main concern was that the rain that fell prior to the race would cause sloppy conditions, which hurt her in the Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff Handcap (gr. II) in May.
"She was unbelievable," he said.
The disappointment in the race was Society Selection, who launched a bid on the far turn, but was never a factor in the stretch, finishing fourth, more than 12 lengths behind Ashado. The 2-1 second choice, Society Selection lost for the first time in four starts at Saratoga, where she won the Test and Alabama (both gr. I) last year.
The Southern California invader, Andujar, under Corey Nakatani, fought her way to the front going into the clubhouse turn and carved the fractions (:23 2/5, :47, 1:11 2/5) with Ashado never more than a length behind her as they reached the final turn. Without urging from Velazquez, Ashado moved up on Andujar's outside and rolled on by at the head of the stretch.
With Bending Strings coming on, Velazquez gave the 11-10 favorite a couple of cracks with the whip with his right hand before the eighth pole and, if there was any doubt about her winning the Go for Wand at that point, there was none after that as Velazquez drove for home.
"She was going so good all the way up the backside, I just sat against her," Velazquez noted. "Today, she hesitated a little bit, and I said, `No, Mommy, you're going to have to stay busy. These are the big girls.' I kept her busy, and she kept running. Hopefully, we can keep her like this."
Pletcher said Ashado's tactical speed separated her from the field.
"We had two concerns," Pletcher said. "We didn't want Andujar to get loose on the lead, and we didn't want to chase her so much to set the race up for horses like Society Selection or Daydreaming. We wanted to balance that out, and it worked for us here."
Bending Strings, sent off at 21-1 with Gary Stevens in the saddle, came on to edge Andujar by a length for second.
"We were in a nice stalking position, but the winner was much the best today," Stevens said.
Ashado, last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) champion, earned her fifth grade I win and 11th victory overall in 18 starts. After losing her first two starts of 2005, she has been superb in her last two tries, winning the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park June 18 in front-running style by nearly four lengths prior to the Go for Wand. Her earnings increased to $3,245,440 for owners Starlight Stables, Paul Saylor, and Johns Martin.
"Today emphasized what kind of filly she is," Pletcher said. "She has accomplished some amazing things. Anytime you bring back a Breeders' Cup champion, there is a lot of pressure because of high expectations."
Winning for the third time in four starts at Saratoga, she paid $4.30, $3.10, and $2.20. Bending Strings returned $8.80 and $3.10 to complete a $41.40 exacta. Andujar, who raced without blinkers after a third-place finish in Hollywood Park's Vanity Handicap (gr. I) for trainer Doug O'Neill, was $3.10 to show.
"Ashado ran a huge race," O'Neill said. "Our filly got a little worked up before the gate, which she's never done before. We're going to scope her. We'll see if we have any excuses that way, but Ashado just ran a monstrous race."
Nakatani added, "I don't think it was (Andujar's) best effort, but we took the blinkers off trying to see if we could get her to relax. She was doing everything she was supposed to, but it seemed like she didn't want to run her best race today."
The multiple graded stakes winner Daydreaming, who turned in a poor performance in the Phipps, came home last, 10 1/2 lengths behind Society Selection.
Velazquez enjoyed an incredible opening weekend at Saratoga, winning Friday's Lake George (gr. IIIT) with Ready's Gal and Saturday's Jim Dandy (gr. II) with Flower Alley and Diana Handicap (gr. I) with Sands Springs prior to the Go for Wand.
"It is unbelievable, unreal," he said. "I get chills just thinking about it. It's surreal."