The 150th anniversary of racing in Saratoga began with a reminder of last year’s most exciting moment and a promise of great moments to come in the 39 remaining days of the meet.
Like last year’s Travers, the Grade III $150,000 Schuylerville on Friday ended in a dead heat. The six-furlong dirt run for 2-year-old fillies was finished in 1:12:12 by both Brazen Persuasion inside, ridden by Rosie Napravnik and trained by Steve Asmussen, and Bahnah outside, ridden by Corey Lanerie and trained by Bret Calhoun.
“I told Corey,” Napravnik said after the race, “I said, ‘You got it. Definitely, you got it.’ I didn’t think I had won it.”
Lanerie was less than convinced, especially when the photo was shown to the crowd and the winners revealed. Posting the dead heat, the two winning horses are listed in numerical order. So Napravnik’s 4 was above Lanerie’s 5. But then both began to glow on the big board and track announcer Tom Durkin clued everyone in on the dead heat.
“She said, ‘I think you got me.’ That gave me a little hope, but I really thought I got beat,” Lanerie said. “Jogging back, I looked up and saw the four before the five, I wanted to cry. Then I heard him say, ‘Dead heat.’ I was proud. My horse ran so hard, all the way to the wire. She gave me every ounce in her, and it was enough to dead heat.”
Brazen Persuasion broke quickly from the gate and ended up on the lead. In hot pursuit from the beginning, though, was the coupled entry of Elena Strikes and Yes Liz, both from the barn of three-time defending track champion trainer Todd Pletcher.
“She broke well,” Napravnik said. “I didn’t really like the fact that I was on the inside of the other speed, so they were kind of forcing us to go. But she broke so well and went along easy. I just tried to wait as long as I could, even though I was kind of outrunning Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Yes Liz]. I’ll tell you what, this little thing that I hit the wire with, she’s about half the size of any of them. They both ran super hard, and our filly is really talented. She ran very well.”
Pletcher’s entry and Bahnah chased Brazen Persuasion through early fractions of 21.75 and 44.68. Bahnah moved into second about a quarter mile into the race and edged closer and closer to the leader. Through the last sixteenth, they swapped the lead with every bob.
“They were opposite on the nods, and you could tell it was no-yes, no-yes, no-yes,” Asmussen said. “Then you’re standing there, and I thought she did get beat on the replay. Then they throw the number up, the 4-5 in order, they throw the dead heat, so we’ll take all of it. We’re standing here with it over, official and happy about it.
“She broke sharp, was away real cleanly. The entry tackled her, immediately. Coming into the stretch, I thought she got a little separation, then you saw the other filly coming, but they fought really well to the wire.”
Asmussen said already having run a six-furlong race helped Brazen Persuasion hold on. She won that one in her last start by 4 3⁄4 lengths. He said he’s likely to point her toward the Grade I $300,000 Spinaway next on Sept. 1.
Bahnah had just one start coming in, a win by six lengths over a 4 1⁄2 furlong course.
“This was obviously a big step for her, going from 41⁄2 furlongs to six furlongs, but she stepped up and proved it today,” Calhoun said. “She’s always been a mentally mature filly, and she continues to progress both mentally and physically. I think the Spinaway is probably now on our radar.
“[Lanerie] said she wasn’t responding to the whip, and he switched to hand-riding her, and she inched back up to them. It was a game effort by both of them. It was a great race by both of them. It’s a good way to get a first win [at Saratoga].”