SARATOGA SPRINGS — The legal dance between trainer Bob Baffert and the New York Racing Association continues behind the scenes.
In the meantime, Baffert’s champion female sprinter Gamine spins her way into the Grade I Ballerina spotlight on Saturday as part of the annual blockbuster Travers Day card at Saratoga Race Course.
She returns to the site of one of the races that propelled her to an Eclipse Award as a a 3-year-old, a dominating seven-length win in the Grade I Test.
Gamine is 3-for-3 at the Ballerina distance of seven furlongs (also the Test distance), and is 3-for-3 in her 2021 races by a combined 16 1/2 lengths. All told, her eight career victory margins combined total almost 55 lengths, and her only career loss was in the mile-and-eighth Kentucky Oaks last year, after which Baffert got her back to sprint distances.
So it’s no surprise that, at 3-5, Gamine is the heaviest morning-line favorite on the 13-race Travers card, which includes five Grade I stakes and a Grade II besides the main event.
“She’s just brilliant, just a brilliant filly,” Baffert told the New York Racing Association in a phone interview. “She’s fun to watch, and people like watching her run. Fans love those kinds of horses, and they count on them.”
Baffert was in Saratoga for the Aug. 9-10 Fasig-Tipton Select Yearlings Sale, but is not expected to be here for Travers Day.
On Wednesday, his lawyers asked a U.S. District Court judge to approve a request to get almost $160,000 in attorney fees from the New York Racing Association related to his challenge of a NYRA ban from racing at Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct. If the ban had still been in place, Gamine would not be running in the Ballerina.
A judge granted an injunction against the ban, which came after the Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit twice tested positive for a regulated drug overage, and Baffert has run a few horses at the meet.
Gamine comes into the Ballerina off a 10-length win in the Great Lady M at Los Alamitos on July 5.
Besides her win in the Test, she was 18 3/4 lengths better than the runner-up in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont last year. In her first race against older horses as a 3-year-old, she won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint by 6 1/4 lengths at Keeneland.
“She always runs well when she goes back East. She likes the Eastern tracks,” Baffert said.
“This is definitely a tough race, especially with the champion in there,” said Greg Foley, whose filly Sconsin was fourth in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint. “I see one with a lot of pace, and that’s Gamine. Other than her I don’t see any pace. She’s definitely the speed. I was hoping to see a little more speed entered in here to go with her early. I don’t know that there is.
“We’re not going to change our game plan too much. We’re going to sit and finish, and if we can’t get to her, we can’t. We’re not going to send her away from there trying to go with Gamine. That would be ridiculous on our part. We’re sure not going to get anything that way. Hopefully, somebody else can go with her and help us out. We’ll see what happens.”
Like the Ballerina, the Grade I Personal Ensign for fillies and mares has an obvious favorite.
Letruska (6-5) appears to face a much stiffer challenge than Gamine does, though.
Seven of her eight rivals are multiple graded stakes winners, and three have won Grade I stakes.
The only race keeping Letruska from an undefeated 2021 in five starts is a second by a head to Shedaresthedevil in the Grade II Azeri.
So she’s clearly the one to beat, but several of her Personal Ensign opponents, including 2020 3-year-old filly champion Swiss Skydiver, look capable of doing so.
“This year since the Apple Blossom, she’s run with the toughest fillies and mares in the division like Swiss Skydiver and Monomoy Girl,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said. “The performance she gave in the Apple Blossom was no coincidence. You don’t beat horses like Monomoy Girl by coincidence.
“After Belmont [a win in the Ogden Phipps], she was in good condition,” he continued. “It wasn’t my original idea to run in the Fleur de Lis. I was going to go to the Delaware Handicap. But after she went back to train at Keeneland, something told me to nominate. After I checked the nominations a couple of times and saw her training, I decided to run her. If we are in a fight to win an Eclipse, we have to win races.”
“This race very well could dictate who is the champion older filly and mare,” Swiss Skydiver’s trainer Kenny McPeek said.
“The race is very, very tough,” Miss Marissa’s trainer Jim Ryerson said.
H. ALLEN JERKENS
The Grade I H. Allen Jerkens for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs offers an interesting matchup between Amsterdam winner Jackie’s Warrior, the even-money favorite, and 8-5 Life Is Good, who is making his first start in almost six months and his first start since being transferred from Baffert to Todd Pletcher.
After the Amsterdam, trainer Steve Asmussen said he wouldn’t be afraid to run Jackie’s Warrior against anybody in a one-turn dirt race.
Life Is Good, meanwhile has been out of commission with an injury after establishing himself as the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby with an eight-length win in the San Felipe on March 6.
“He’s always been a really impressive horse to watch train,” Pletcher said. “He was then [with Baffert in California] and continues to be now. I would expect some pretty fast fractions, so we’ll just have to play it by ear off the break and see how it unfolds.”
Fan favorite Whitmore will make his 43rd career start, at the age of 8, in the Grade I Forego off a third to Lexitonian in the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt on July 31.
He has hit the board in all four 2021 starts, but hasn’t won since the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on the way to an Eclipse Award.
“Age is only a number,” trainer Ron Moquett said. “We prefer to look at the individual way each horse is doing and not let age be the deciding factor in how he’s going to do. He’s quite the handful. There’s always something at Saratoga to pump him up. He’s always fired up when he’s here and he’s feeling feisty.”
Whitmore won the Forego in 2018 and was seventh in the race last year.
Trainer Chad Brown has two entered in the Grade I Sword Dancer on the turf, 2-1 favorite Tribhuvan coming off a win in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth and Rockemperor, who was second to Cross Border in the Grade II Bowling Green earlier in the meet.
The field includes 2020 Sword Dancer winner Channel Maker, who was seventh in the Bowling Green on July 31, and 7-year-old New York-bred Cross Border, who has won six of seven career races at Saratoga.
“He’s a horse for [the] course. I hope we have another rabbit to pull out of the hat,” trainer Michael Maker said. “The horse never has a bad hair day. He always looks well and trains well. Obviously, he has an affinity for up here, where he’s had his best performances. So, we’ll take it.”
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