Ballerina: Starlight’s Hilda’s Passion earns trip to Breeders’ Cup

She’s in.

Hilda’s Passion ran away from the field to win the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga R


She’s in.

Hilda’s Passion ran away from the field to win the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, which will send Don Lucarelli and Jack Wolf to the Breeders’ Cup with a chance to win an Eclipse Award.

The Ballerina was designated as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs in Nov­ember.

Lucarelli, of Duanesburg, and Wolf, of Saratoga Springs, are co-managing partners of Starlight Racing, which owns Hilda’s Passion in partnership with Charles Glasscock.

The $150,000 winner’s share was $20,000 more than they paid for her when Starlight bought her off the track following an impressive debut win at Turfway Park last year.

“It’s got to be our biggest win, because it’s a Grade I,” said Lucarelli, who got his first win at his hometown track in 2006, when Octave took the Adirondack.

One mystery was solved, and another written, in the Ballerina.

Hilda’s Passion rebounded from her head-scratching performance in the Bed o’ Roses, when she inexplicably finished sixth to Tamarind Hall.

In the meantime, Sassy Image, the 7-5 post-time favorite, broke slowly under Robby Albarado, bolted to the outside and never got under control. She was way wide and in last place for the entire seven furlongs.

“She just wanted to run to the outside fence, all the way around,” trainer Dale Romans said. “She’s never done anything like that before. Hopefully she’s OK.

“I don’t know what happened, she just wanted to bolt,” Albarado said. “She was just unmanageable. She would have run to the outside fence if I’d have let her. She felt sound under me and she’s never shown anything like that.”

Sassy Image had the upper hand on Hilda’s Passion for the female sprint championship after three straight wins, including a three-length victory over Hilda’s Passion in the Grade I Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day.

Hilda’s Passion came back to win the Grade II Vagrancy by 51⁄4 lengths at Belmont Park on June 4, but bombed in the Bed o’ Roses a month later.

“I don’t know what happened with her the last time,” jockey Javier Castellano said. “I’m glad it’s over and we have turned the page.”

“That last race, the Bed o’ Roses, we don’t have an explanation,” Lucarelli said. “When they say throw a line through a race, there’s the classic example of that.”

On Saturday, Hilda’s Passion broke cleanly, rushed to the lead and played her typical game of catch-me-if-you-can.

The two outside horses, Sassy Image and Tar Heel Mom, both got out of the gate slowly, and Sassy Image never recovered, pulling Albarado out to the middle of the track instead of in toward the rest of the field.

Tar Heel Mom did well to get second, but she never threatened and was 91⁄4 lengths behind Hilda’s Passion at the finish.

“It was pretty straightforward,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We wanted to be on the lead, she broke great, and when she’s on her game, she’s awfully, awfully good. I didn’t see [Tar Heel Mom] start, I heard she stumbled from [Tom] Durkin’s description. We were wanting to be where we were, we were happy, and it looked like she was doing it the right way.”

“I am very satisfied with the way she did it today,” Castellano said. “It’s hard to predict what can happen in a race. She’s a pacemaker. She broke so sharp, settled well and was relaxed. She’s a very fast horse. I knew she was going to give me a good performance. When I was going to ask her, I knew she would give it to me.”

The win produced mixed emot­ions for Lucarelli, who yelled “Yes!” after the winner’s circle photo, but then got choked up talking about how the race was ded­icated to a friend, Gary Lombardi, who died of cancer this winter.

“I’m an emotional person, so this is unbelievable,” Lucarelli said. “Every Travers for the last five years, we always sit with a certain group of people, and one of those people can’t be here today. So he’s up there, and he made it happen. That’s all I’ve got to say. We miss him, we miss him a lot.”

Hilda’s Passion is 6-2-0 from nine starts since winning the Bennington at Saratoga last year.

“Right about this time last year, she really started coming into her own, Todd said,” Lucarelli said. “Really, the best thing that could’ve happened for us was when the Bennington came off the turf. She just exploded. From that point on, she’s just been phenomenal.”

Lucarelli said he expects to see Sassy Image again, perhaps in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

“We’ll be ready for that rematch, don’t worry,” he said. “We knew she had the performance in her. Everybody was touting Sassy Image. We never second-guessed ourselves, but we knew if she could get the lead, the track is actually favoring speed a little bit today, which didn’t hurt us.

“It’s so important with a filly to have a Grade I. It’s residual value, and she’s so deserving of it. She had a tough break in the Distaff on Derby Day, and it it was very biased the other way. She cut out a winning race, but was caught. Now it comes down to the Breeders’ Cup to decide the best female sprinter in the country.”

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