SARATOGA SPRINGS — If the Tiz the Law’s Travers was a coronation of sorts, so was the Grade I Test.
Gamine continued her ascension to 2020 racing royalty by blasting away from Venetian Harbor to win the Grade I Test by seven lengths at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday to remain undefeated — almost — from four career starts.
She won the Test, her second straight Grade I, by seven lengths and has finished first by a combined 32-plus lengths, although her neck win in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park in May was overturned two months later by a drug overage.
In five months, though, she has established herself as a force in the 3-year-old filly division.
“She’s rising straight to the top,” said Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert. “For what she’s accomplished so far for such a lightly raced filly, we look forward to stretching her out and see what comes of that.”
“Obviously, she’s very good,” jockey John Velazquez said. “You love to be on these kinds of horses. I have to thank Bob and the owners for the opportunity. Bob said she breaks well and to kind of let her do her thing. If another horse wants to go too fast, we just let her sit second and she’ll be fine sitting second. But she broke so good and the other horse [Venetian Harbor] kind of stayed right next to me and didn’t press the pace very much, so I just kind of let her do what she wanted to do the first quarter-mile.
“Once we got to the turn, I let her get into the turn and she got really comfortable and really smooth and got away from the other horse and kept going. Very nice.”
Gamine and Venetian Harbor, ridden by Joel Rosario, were separated by a half-length for the first half-mile, which Gamine covered in 45.14, then Gamine put Venetian Harbor away on the turn, and Velazquez let her coast to the wire inside the sixteenth pole without asking for anything more.
“She’s super fast,” Rosario said of his filly. “She broke running fast and [Gamine] did, too. I just tried to sit off her. She ran a tremendous race, but the winner was just very impressive.”
For the first time in seven starts going back to last year’s Test, trainer Tom Amoss cut Serengeti Empress back in distance, and she thrived at seven-eighths of a mile to win the Grade I Ballerina by a length over Bellafina.
The 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner broke a half-step slow under Luis Saez from the No. 1 post, but recovered nicely and popped off blistering fractions for the quarter-mile (21.75) and half (43.74) while still having enough left in the tank to hold off Bellafina.
After banging away at two-turn route race almost exclusively since the end of her 2-year-old season, Serengeti Empress will stick to shorter distances after this breakthrough performance and point toward the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, also at seven furlongs.
“Serengeti Empress broke a step slow, but the configuration of the track here going seven-eighths of a mile, where you’re actually in a chute and you have to meet the main track gives you a chance from the inside to catch back up and regain your position,” Amoss said. “So he was able to do that by the time he got onto the main track. So that was very important.
“But when I saw the half-mile time, and keeping in mind that she had to catch up, seeing those kinds of fractions, I got very nervous that we had done too much early. But I think today she showed just how much grit she has.”
“The first jump, she was not that fast, but I asked her a little, and she put me in that position,” Saez said. “She was rolling. When we came to the stretch, she was just waiting for the competition, and when the horse came outside, she was fighting.”
In her last attempt at this distance, Serengeti Empress lost by a half-length in the Test to Covfefe who went on the be named champion female sprinter.
Serengeti Empress ran into another champion in her last race, a loss to Midnight Bisou in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 27.
Her days of route races were over at that point.
“If you’re a handicapper and you paid attention to last year’s Test, when she got beat a head by Covfefe, who went on to be the champion, you knew that at seven-eighths, she had a real chance to be exactly who she wanted,” Amoss said. “I’ve been pointing to this race since she was well-beaten by Midnight Bisou in her last race going a route of ground. We wanted to avoid Midnight Bisou. But more importantly, when you win the Kentucky Oaks, which is a two-turn race, you’re almost married to continue to run these two-turn races. Today, we got an opportunity to move back to middle distance, and I think we found a home here.”
Amoss was so thrilled, he didn’t even mind that Serengeti’s big moment came with no fans in attendance.
“Right now, it feels like the greatest day of my life,” he said. “Travers Day? Sure. There’s nothing wrong with the world right now. I couldn’t be happier.”
American Sailor and jockey Tyler Gaffalione were sailing clear of the incident that led to a disqualification in the Grade III Troy turf sprint, but no horse benefited more from it.
He led most of the way, was caught by Imprimis and jockey Jose Ortiz to finish second by 2 1/4 lengths, then was elevated to first when Imprimis was taken down for interfering with third-place finisher Shekky Shebaz in mid-stretch.
“I don’t want to take anything away from my horse, he put in a huge effort today,” Gaffalione said. “It’s not the way you want to get it down, but he put in a big effort and he’s definitely deserving.”
“When I hit him the first time, that’s when he switched leads, and I think that’s when I bothered the other horse,” Ortiz said. “It looked like [Imprimis] was the best horse, but I probably did cost the other horse [Shekky Shebaz] a position.”
The Troy was the 45th career start and first attempt at a graded stakes in the 45-race career of the 8-year-old gelding American Sailor.
“I’m speechless,” trainer Wayne Potts said. “This is my first graded win. My clients have stood behind me through the years with claimers, and this is where we’re at.”
Ortiz got one back in the following race, when he piloted My Sister Nat to victory in the Grade III Waya turf marathon, by a neck over Mrs. Sippy with a sharp closing run on the outside.
It was the first victory in six North American starts for My Sister Nat, a half-sister to Sistercharlie trained by Chad Brown and owned by Peter Brant.
“In these types of races, there’s not a lot of pace,” Brown said. “I thought Jose came to the paddock with a really good plan. He said he was going to try and stay closer and he was able to find the one during the race to follow, which I thought was smart. We didn’t change her style, but we stayed with the pack this time and didn’t let her fall too far back. Jose deserves a lot of credit for that.”
“We saved ground in the first two turns and in the third turn I started looking for a place to go,” Ortiz said. “Chad always tells me in three-turn races to save ground in two and in the third do whatever you want. I started working my way out and I’m glad it worked out.
“She’s a really nice filly and she was knocking on the door. Chad and Mr. Brant have been very patient and she’s a very nice filly going this distance and longer. She’s a tiny filly but she’s got a lot of heart.”
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