Saratoga Race Course

Goodnight Olive wins Grade I Ballerina in stakes debut

Goodnight Olive and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., win the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga on Sunday.
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Goodnight Olive and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., win the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga on Sunday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS Goodnight Olive got a clean trip in more ways than one on Sunday.

Troubled by physical issues, including twice needing ankle chips removed, she has finally stayed sound long enough for trainer Chad Brown to give her a big class jump from allowance company to a Grade I in the Ballerina at Saratoga Race Course.

Then she beat a tough seven-horse field that included 2021 Eclipse award-winning female sprinter Ce Ce and won by 2 3/4 lengths.

Because she broke from the outside, and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., kept her wide enough through the Ballerina’s seven furlongs to avoid any dirt kickback despite stalking behind two horses, Goodnight Olive and Ortiz’s silks looked the same at the finish as they did when they loaded into the starting gate.

“What a wonderful sight,” Brown said as he watched the head-on replay on the infield video bigboard. “She’s the only clean horse in the field. Again, it supports my feeling about the post position. I think what you see there played a big role, as well.”

Goodnight Olive is 4, but had raced just five times in her career coming into the Ballerina, and never in a stakes race.

Before the Ballerina, her 2022 campaign had consisted of allowance optional claiming victories at Belmont Park in June and at Saratoga on Aug. 7.

But she’s healthy now, so after struggling just to get starts, Brown wheeled her right back in three weeks, and the decision paid off in a big way.

“When she is on the track running, which hasn’t been a lot, she’s doing it with ease and unchallenged,” Brown said. “You only get a few shots at these big Grade I races at a distance that I think might be perfect for her. Only back on three weeks, we thought we’d take a shot and it worked out.”

Now Goodnight Olive is headed to the Breeders’ Cup, since the Ballerina was a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the BC Filly and Mare Sprint.

Long shot Travel Column and Bella Sofia, who was fourth to Ce Ce in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint last November, dueled on the lead early, then faded late.

Goodnight Olive and Ortiz were right there to pick up the pieces, taking the lead as they headed into the stretch.

“It played out just exactly as we thought,” Brown said. “We thought she’d be laying roughly third — we talked about it in the paddock — off a hot pace, so Irad and I were both on the same page. Don’t get involved so much with the pace, but don’t be too far away.

“She drew beautiful with the 7 post. Of all the options in the world, I was very pleased after the draw. I thought we had a good shot in the race, but it was a deep field. As I was handicapping the race this afternoon, I could make a case for five, maybe six horses that, if they ran their very best today, could win. Beautiful ride by Irad, beautiful post.”

“She always wins the right way,” Ortiz said. “In the allowance races, you could see how easy she won. She’s a nice filly, but she had never faced Grade I horses in the afternoon, but she did it today and she showed up. The trainer picked the races for her step by step, didn’t rush, and today the patience paid off.”

Brown said he has had to make “more not-good phone calls about this filly than good phone calls” to the owners, First Row Partners and Team Hanley, because of Goodnight Olive’s seemingly endless saga of physical issues.

“She hasn’t run a lot,” he said. “A lot of stop-and-go with her, not unlike her dad who I worked with, Ghostzapper. Maybe not on the track often, but very talented. She’s had some soundness issues, but the team of owners always let me do the right thing, take my time with this horse and never push her beyond what she was ready to do. She finally got it all together. She’s nice and sound and healthy, and I appreciate their patience.”

The champ, Ce Ce, never got in the game under Victor Espinoza, her regular rider who shipped in from California for the Ballerina, and finished fifth.

“She’s a little bit picky when it comes to the track, and today it was not her favorite,” Espinoza said. “She bounced out of there, and she wasn’t doing her thing. I was just trying to encourage her to get her rhythm, but it seemed like she struggled.

“It’s one of those things where, if she doesn’t like the track, she will not run. She will be OK. She will get them next time.”

WIT WINS ON TURF

In his second start since trainer Todd Pletcher switched 2021 Sanford winner Wit to the turf, he won, and did so in a stakes race, taking the one-mile Better Talk Now by 2 3/4 lengths on the Ballerina undercard.

Wit had hit many of the big stakes races on dirt in his age group, including a second to Gunite in the Hopeful last year on the heels of his Sanford win and a fourth to Jack Christopher in the Grade I Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day this year.

Pletcher gave him a shot at the turf in the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga on Aug. 4, and Wit was second.

“We feel like he kind of sprung to life when we put him on the turf, and I think for right now we’ll probably keep him on it,” Pletcher said. “It was really just about kind of looking for an opportunity, and when we worked him on it, it was obvious that he took to it.”

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