Santa Anita Report: Golden Ballet, Spain Victorious

Her name conjures up images of grace and wealth, elegance blended with strength. That glistening chestnut coat gets oohs and ahhs every time she leaves the comforts of the Jenine Sahadi stable. Her snow-white blaze puts an exclamation point on every stride, the power of which hits you like a Mack truck.

Such is the wonder of Golden Ballet. But don't let her image deceive you. She's no monster. She just runs like one. She's no tank, either. She's only built like one.

"She's actually very sweet," Sahadi admits.

"Very feminine, too," chimes in her jockey, Chris McCarron. "She's a big filly, but she definitely wouldn't fit into the category of being compared to a tank. She's very feminine. Let's call her an Amazon."

Go ahead, pick your simile. Call her what you will. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy a star in the making. The daughter of Moscow Ballet wowed 'em again on Feb. 10. Three weeks after a sensational return to action, Golden Ballet went two turns like a champ and made off with the one-mile $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita.

You could say it was over from the first jump, when Golden Ballet fired from the rail and instantly took charge of the situation. The clubhouse turn presented an interesting challenge--after all, she'd never seen it before--and she cornered fast and wide, covering the first quarter in a rapid :22.36.

"I knew we were flying," McCarron admitted. "But the second quarter helped a great deal," as Golden Ballet managed to ease off the gas a bit to get a half in :46.08. Still, Irguns Angel was on her tail the whole way. The true challenge, however, would come from Two Item Limit, but McCarron, ever the observer, had been astutely monitoring everyone's progress.

He caught sight of Two Item Limit skimming the rail on the far turn, so heading for home, he leaned Golden Ballet left, effectively sealing the inside path. The move forced Eddie Delahoussaye to switch course and swerve Two Item Limit to the outside. By then, Golden Ballet was gone. Under the wire 2 1/2 lengths clear, she got the mile in 1:36.89. Two Item Limit was a length better than Affluent, who edged Collect Call and Ella's Pal for third.

"I thought what was most impressive about it is that she took some heat and had horses breathing down her neck," said Sahadi, "conceding a lot of weight, and went very fast over what I considered to be a slightly tiring track."

Not to mention it was Golden Ballet's first start beyond seven furlongs, nor the fact her morning efforts are usually a bit on the sluggish side.

"She's the type of horse," McCarron explained, "that if you were to just throw a leg over her in the morning and Jenine says, 'Go five-eighths of a mile,' and you didn't know who she was, you'd come back and say, 'What are you gonna run this filly for?' not 'Wow!' because she's just not impressive at all in the morning. That's just her."

"If you put her in company," Sahadi added, "she will work a little bit better. Not much better, but a little bit better."

OK, so the super filly isn't faultless after all. Perhaps her competition--or the distances--will eventually catch up to her. Then again, maybe they won't. Sahadi, who blazed through last spring on the wings of Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner The Deputy, glows at the prospects of training a leading Oaks contender. And so far, her forethought has paid rich dividends. Owned by the Team Valor syndicate and Bill Heiligbrodt, Golden Ballet has won her only three starts under Sahadi's care by a combined margin of 17 1/2 lengths.

"I'm thrilled with her," Sahadi said. "I think she's awesome. For me, it's very exciting because I've never had a 3-year-old filly before. She did exactly what she was supposed to have done. The nice part about it now is we have a solid month then wait and see if she'll go forward and answer the next question."

That, tentatively, will come in the nine furlongs of the March 10 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I).

Spain...This Tiime

Finally, things are back to normal. For a time, it seemed like there was an identity crisis. These girls had things inside out.

You can trace their rivalry back to the summer of '99, when Chilukki was the hottest thing around and Spain made her earn every inch of the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I). That season belonged to Chilukki. But it was a different story a year later, when Spain finally collected her thoughts and put on a few pounds of experience. Sure, Chilukki's the go-to girl when you want your racing served hot. Spain, though, got the one that meant the most--the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I)--and she got it when no one thought she could.

So Chilukki and Spain figured to cross paths somewhere in Santa Anita's La Canada series. Then it all fell apart--or at least it looked a bit backward. The seven-furlong La Brea Stakes (gr. I) hits first, and Spain goes out and beats Chilukki at her own game.

And just when everyone thinks Chilukki can't swing two turns, what happens? The Cherokee Run filly gallops to her leisure and leaves Spain in the dust, taking the El Encino Stakes (gr. II) like it was nothing. A slow pace played right into Chilukki's hands, and it was tactical error, according to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, that left Spain with no ammunition.

"We did not let her do what she does best last time," Lukas explained. "We took her out of her game plan, and in doing so, it cost us."

The $200,000 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) on Feb. 11 figured to belong--once again--to Chilukki and Spain. What order they'd come in, however, was anybody's guess.

High Walden, trying dirt for the first time, led the field through a sensible half in :47.89. Spain and Chilukki took command with three furlongs to go, then Chilukki slowly began to slip back. Under Victor Espinoza, Spain pulled away to win by two lengths, running nine furlongs over a sticky track in 1:49.74. Spain is owned by Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp.

Continued. . . .