Santa Anita Race Report: Golden Ballet Passes Another Test

The pace was hot, and she'd been running hard from the moment the flag fell. Those who stayed close early had paid a painful price. Now, with just a quarter-mile left to run, Golden Ballet was being put to the test. A new challenge, the Seattle Slew filly Flute, had come peeling around the bend, braced to blow right on by.

To that point in her career, Golden Ballet had sparkled. She had been flashy, breaking her maiden in a stakes and doing it in record time. She had been coveted, purchased privately by high rollers looking for the next superstar. She had been resilient, roaring back from a summertime illness to completely flatten her competition.

Her 3-year-old debut, a seven-length smasher in the Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II), was downright frightening. She made two turns look like child's play in the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) after that. On March 10, when she finally caught sight of Flute turning for home in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) at 8 1/2 furlongs, the daughter of Moscow Ballet let everyone know what she's made of.

"She's class," jockey Chris McCarron said. "When they've got class, they do what she did at the quarter pole. Simple as that."

But then, anything is simple compared to Golden Ballet's oft-interrupted training before the Oaks. Blame it on the rain, all 15 inches or so that have soaked Southern California and forced trainer Jenine Sahadi to walk a tightrope with Golden Ballet's work schedule.

"I've really babied her," Sahadi said. "Two works is not what I would have planned."

A jaunty half-mile in :49 and change on Feb. 21 -- "I really wanted to go easy that work because she lays her body down so hard each time," Sahadi said -- followed nine days later by three quarters in 1:14 1/5 had to keep Golden Ballet on edge. Some didn't think it was enough. McCarron wasn't one of them.

"In spite of the fact she won off by seven in the Santa Ynez, she ran fast and ran hard," he admitted. "It wasn't an easy race. Then she comes back and has another hard race. She's appearing to win comfortably, but she's running. She's a big, robust filly, but fillies a lot of times don't necessarily want a lot of training in between hard races. She was dead-fit coming out of the Las Virgenes. If anything, maybe the little intermittent works were helpful to her."

They needed to be. Golden Ballet launched from the three-hole and sprinted into the first turn, covering the opening quarter in :23.30. Down at the rail, Collect Call remained a thorn long enough to keep Golden Ballet rolling through a :45.64 half. Pristine, a recent maiden winner from the D. Wayne Lukas barn, applied still more pressure down the backstretch. By the time Golden Ballet reached the far turn, she'd never had a chance to catch her breath.

And she wouldn't. Leaving the half-mile pole, both Flute and Affluent had started a simultaneous move. Affluent couldn't keep up, though, leaving Flute to tackle Golden Ballet alone. When Flute flirted with the lead, Golden Ballet sensed the threat. Her ears pinned back against her skull. Her blood reached a boil. As McCarron's arms pushed earnestly upon her chestnut neck, Golden Ballet reached down deep.

With inspiring tenacity, she jumped back to the lead, and it was over. Despite racing on her left lead to the finish, Golden Ballet beat Flute by a decisive length. McCarron could only marvel.

"I'm telling you, when you watch her, with your eye she looks like she's getting a case of the staggers, and she doesn't feel that way," he admitted. "I even say that. I look at the replay and I go, 'Wow! She's on the wrong lead, she looks like she's crawling.' I'm on her back -- Shoo! Those poles are still going by fast. That rail is just whizzin' by."

The clock told the story. Team Valor and Bill Heiligbrodt's Golden Ballet went the last sixteenth in :6.53, making her final time of 1:41.83 the fastest Oaks since Lakeway's romp back in 1994. She has now won five straight. Each one adds another coat of gloss. Or maybe it's armor.

"She's got a big heart," praised Sahadi. "Oh, and she's feisty. She is a very determined racehorse. I don't see how anybody couldn't be impressed with what she did yesterday. I know that I am really impressed. I'm floored."

Claim to Fame
While Golden Ballet was an investment with limitless possibilities last summer, there were no delusions of grandeur for trainer John Dolan when he claimed Lazy Slusan at Del Mar last July. His focus was the lucrative long run.

"I just thought she was worth the money as a broodmare, so I couldn't go wrong," said Dolan, who got the Slewvescent mare for $62,500. "Anything she could make as a racing mare, that's extra."

Perhaps, he thought, Cal-bred stakes might be a chance to enhance her value. Never, though, did he think Lazy Slusan had the goods to knock off a graded stakes or a Breeders' Cup champion. On March 10 she did both, nailing Spain in the final desperate yards of the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I).

It was a career pinnacle for Dolan, who has turned the sensitive mare into a gem of consistency over the past seven months. But it hasn't been easy.

"When I first got her, she came off the track dripping wet," he recalled. "She's still nervous. You have to watch her 'cause she'll tie up."

An overflow of patience and nurturing has paid obvious dividends in the mornings, while a change in equipment has given Lazy Slusan the confidence to take on anything.

"When I claimed her, her one eye was in bad shape. Real bad shape," Dolan explained, referring to Lazy Slusan's near-blind left eye. "The veterinarian thought she was gonna lose sight in there."

Dolan eventually attached a goggle to the left-eye opening of Lazy Slusan's blinkers. When he did, Lazy Slusan became a new horse. And though the Santa Margarita line-up featured Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) heroine Spain as well as Lovellon, Feverish, and Critikola -- the one-two-three finishers from last month's Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) -- Dolan felt he had more than a fighting chance with Lazy Slusan.

A polished ride from David Flores made all the difference. Flores kept Lazy Slusan in a sweet spot throughout, outside and just behind Feverish and Spain, who had been dueling from the get-go. Lazy Slusan finally moved in around the far turn, and with a quarter-mile to run, the trio were in lock-step.

Heading for home, Feverish seemed to crack but still hung in like a champ. Spain felt the rapid-fire of Victor Espinoza's whip and responded with fresh vigor. Critikola ranged into view as well, threatening to run them all down. But Lazy Slusan never went away, and she surged clear late to win by a half-length over Spain. Critikola was another half-length behind and a neck in front of Feverish. Lazy Slusan got the nine furlongs in 1:48.59.

(Chart, Equibase)