SARATOGA SPRINGS — Her name beckons you to the dance floor.
And you had best step lively.
Almost a year since her last victory, Come Dancing can still bust a move, as she skipped past Lady’s Island to win the Grade II Honorable Miss at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday.
It’s been an awkward 2020 for the 6-year-old mare, who was brought back to run one more season by Blue Devil Racing Stable instead of heading to the breeding shed. That includes a fourth to Serengeti Empress in the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga on Aug. 8, but as she showed on Sunday, she’s not ready to walk off the floor and will point toward another shot at the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
“In the Ballerina, there’s no disgrace,” trainer Carlos Martin said. “People were saying she lost a step. I said, ‘She got beat two lengths by a really great horse, and it’s a Grade I race at Saratoga, seven wide, with a 92 Beyer [speed figure[ and an 8 on the [Ragozin] sheets. We’re not going to give up.
“Everybody’s like, ‘She’s not the same Come Dancing, what are you doing, retire her.’ So I’m really so happy for her, because I really think she can still do some damage, and I think she’s a special horse.”
Come Dancing won the Ballerina last year and backed it up with a victory in the Grade II Gallant Bloom before finishing up the track to Covfefe in the Breeders’ Cup.
She started out 2020 with a route race, finishing 12th in the Grade I Apple Blossom in April, then was second in the Grade III Vagrancy in June in the lead-up to the Ballerina.
In the Honorable Miss, she was shortening up to six furlongs for the first time in over two years, but a blowout breeze of 46.68 for four furlongs on Aug. 22 told Martin that she was ready for the Honorable Miss.
“For whatever reason, for the last two, three weeks, the cooler weather, you could just see her thriving and thriving again,” Martin said. “She had a rough start to her year, running in that Grade I, two turns. It was a little bit unfair to her. We maybe got a little panicky with her deciding where to run because of the pandemic, and that was a mistake.”
With regular rider Javier Castellano at Churchill Downs for Derby Week, Irad Ortiz Jr. got the riding assignment on Come Dancing for the Honorable Miss, chasing the pace on the inside before tipping out three wide in the stretch.
He confidently hand-rode her past Lady’s Island to win by three-quarters of a length.
“I haven’t ridden her in a long time, but she’s as good as she’s ever been,” said Ortiz, who last rode Come Dancing in the Beldame in October of 2018.
“I was happy to see that Irad was able to get her to break, settle and we had her in the clear when he made his move. And the track’s been very fast. But I just wanted to see the old Come Dancing give us the kind of run she has and be the champion that she is.
“And it’s very gratifying that [co-owner] Marc [Holliday] brought her back. There were a lot of naysayers that said she lost a step, and hopefully she can finish the year strong and we can be vindicated, and Come Dancing, I’m so happy for her, because she’s a special horse for all of us.
“You get to the point where it’s time and they want to go out and breed and move on,” Holliday said. “That was not the case with Come Dancing. This horse is happiest when she is on that track and when it’s race day. She was on her toes today, she knew exactly what the deal was.
“I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to the horse to put her out to pasture early. Carlos needed a few races to reconstruct her and get her where she was, and you can see the result.”
Martin said, unlike last year, they would likely train Come Dancing up to the Breeders’ Cup instead of looking for another race, as they did last year.
“At this point, this is the last dance, so to speak, so we want to make it a good one,” he said.
Trainer Butch Reid is happy to leave the breeding decisions to the breeders.
In 2016, he had Nyquist at his barn for the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, serving as caretaker in place of California-based trainer Doug O’Neill, so he had a first-hand look at the Kentucky Derby winner.
When his friend Tom McGrath decided to breed to Nyquist, Reid had his doubts, but those were dispelled when Nyquist’s 2-year-old daughter Vequist ran away with the Grade I Spinaway as a maiden making just her second career start.
“I was a little bit against him in the beginning, to be honest,” Reid said with a laugh. “He was kind of a big, wiry horse, got a little nervous back at the barn, and when he said, ‘I’m breeding to Nyquist,’ I said, ‘OK, sure. It sounds like a good idea, I guess.’ Obviously, there are a lot smarter people than me down in Kentucky. I stick to the training and don’t worry about the breeding too much.”
From a training standpoint, Vequist worked out of the gate one morning and posted some fast split times with authority, so Reid and McGrath’s Swilcan Stables decided to take a shot at the Spinaway off just a runner-up finish in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race at Parx on July 29.
Now they’re looking forward to stretching her out in distance, after she won the seven-furlong Spinaway by 9 1/2 lengths.
“You don’t expect to win a Grade I with a maiden by that far, but I knew the distance wasn’t a problem,” Reid said. “This may be the last time I run her around one turn.”
AROUND THE TRACK
Trainer Stan Hough said Woodward winner Global Campaign would train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7.
“We have 60 days, so the timing is good,” Hough said.
Trainer Jim Bond said Prioritize, who was a late-closing third under Eric Cancel in the Woodward, will shoot for the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 10.
“The plan was to break and to get inside, save ground like we did in his last races,” Bond said. “I thought he lost way too much ground to have a chance to win it, and he still ran fantastic.” …
With his victory on Come Dancing in the Honorable Miss, Ortiz tied his brother Jose for first place in the jockey standings with one racing day left, at 57 each.
Todd Pletcher saddled two winners and leads Chad Brown 31-26 in the trainer standings.
Pletcher has 15 horses entered in 10 races on closing day, and Brown has 12 entered in eight races.
Reach Mike MacAdam at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.