Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens goes for an unprecedented three-time sweep of the Ballerina Handicap (gr. I) Sunday at Saratoga Racecourse with the ultra-consistent Shine Again.
Shine Again, back-to-back winner of the Ballerina in 2001-02, will face an accomplished group of seven fillies and mares in this seven-furlong sprint. She is the co-highweight at 120 pounds with multiple grade I-winning You. "There's nothing anyone doesn't know about her," said Jerkens of Shine Again. "Sure, she's one of my favorites."
The Ballerina will be shown live on ESPN from 5-6 p.m. EDT, sharing top billing with the $1-million Pacific Classic (gr. I) from Del Mar.
Now six, Shine Again has won 14 of 31 starts and more than $1.1 million. In addition to being the only horse to win back-to-back runnings of the Ballerina, Shine Again has racked up five other stakes victories while finishing worse than third only three times in her career. Despite her laurels, Shine Again remains in training at a time when other mares of her stature would have been sent to the breeding shed.
"She loves to train and loves to run," Jerkens said. "She's been so kind. Mrs. (Allaire) du Pont likes to race when she's got something decent. I like having her around here."
Shine Again has compiled a 2-2-0 record from four starts this year. She won her seasonal debut, a money allowance race at Aqueduct in April, before winning the Genuine Risk Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park in mid May. She was second after a less-than-perfect trip in Belmont's Vagrancy Handicap (gr. II) and ran hard every step of the way in the Honorable Miss (gr. III) only to miss by a half-length to Willa On the Move, a rival she'll face again on Sunday.
Shine Again will get the services of jockey Jose Santos in the Ballerina. Her regular rider, Jean-Luc Samyn, broke his leg in a spill Thursday afternoon. "We've got a suitable substitute, but I feel bad for Jean-Luc," Jerkens said. "He gets on her every morning."
Trainer Todd Pletcher entered a pair of stakes winning females in Smok'n Frolic and Harmony Lodge. Smok'n Frolic, a nose behind Shine Again in the Honorable Miss on Aug. 1, appears the stronger of the two.
Owned by Dogwood Stable, Smok'n Frolic has won seven times and earned more than $1.1 million. She is one of those rare horses that can compete against the best in her division going long and as her effort in the Honorable Miss proved, going short too. Smok'n Frolic closed from off the pace in the Honorable Miss to miss by a half-length. On Sunday, she'll get an additional 200 yards to play with.
"It helps," said Saratoga's record-setting trainer Todd Pletcher. "I think she would've gotten up if the Honorable Miss was a little longer. We would love to get a grade I win with her. The Honorable Miss should set her up nicely for this spot."
John Velazquez, Saratoga's leading rider has the mount.
Eugene and Laura Melnyk's Harmony Lodge is a multiple graded stakes winner
who has earned more than $400,000. She has won two of three starts at Saratoga and is out to rebound off a third-place finish behind Ballerina-rival Gold Mover in Calder's Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. II) on July 12.
Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel and owner Edmund Gann team up in Saturday's $1-million Travers (gr. I) with favored Peace Rules. About 24 hours later, Frankel and Gann will attempt to win their second grade I race at Saratoga this weekend with You in the Ballerina.
It was a little more than a year ago when You and Carson Hollow dueled in tandem through the final 200 yards of the Test Stakes (gr. I) at the Ballerina distance. You prevailed in the last stride of a thrilling stretch drive by a nose. Since the test, You has won two of nine starts. A victory would push her across the $2-million mark in earnings
Ballerina Handicap (gr. I), fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, seven furlongs, $250,000
PP, Horse, Jockey, Wgt.
1, Yell, Pat Day, 113
2, Willa On the Move, Robby Albarado, 116
3, Smok'n Frolic, John Velazquez, 117
4 (a), Stellar, Tony Farina, 109
5, Shine Again, Jose Santos, 120
6 (a), Gold Mover, Eibar Coa, 118
7, You, Javier Castellano, 120
8, Harmony Lodge, Richard Migliore, 115