It turns out that the best place for Balance the Books to be was where he started.
Tucked on the hedge for the early stages of the $100,000 Stroll at Saratoga Race Course, Javier Castellano tried to find a seam through a wall of horses as the field came out of the grandstand turn into the stretch.
To Balance the Book’s outside, Hardest Core and Luis Saez prevented Castellano from doing so, so he angled Balance the Books back to the inside, and he had just enough room and just enough stretch to outduel Hardest Core for a neck victory on a yielding course as the 2-1 betting favorite.
Balance the Books started his
career at Saratoga, winning the Grade II With Anticipation last year, then made two starts on synthetic main tracks this spring with no success, so he’s back on the turf, and trainer Chad Brown of Mechanicville said that’s where he will stay.
“It [synthetic] didn’t work out for him,” Brown said. “We ran him back on the grass, and the owners and I made the decision that from here on out, we were going to run him on the turf for the rest of his career, as long as I’m training him.”
The Stroll was scheduled for a mile and three-sixteenths on the Mellon turf course, but was moved to the inner and shortened by a sixteenth of a mile on a day when three turf races were moved to the dirt because of the condition of the rain-soaked grass courses.
Balance the Books lacked experience on soft courses, but did finish a close third to Notacatbutallama and Joha on turf listed “good” in the Solar Splendor at Belmont Park in his previous start.
Castellano kept him within striking distance of Mills, Channel Isle and I’ll Call, but when he tried to angle out four-wide to get around Mills, Hardest Core was waiting for
him just behind the leaders on the outside.
That’s when Hardest Core made his move to pass the three in front, while Castellano steered Balance the Books into an athletic cut back to the path he had been in.
Balance the Books squirted through on the inside and got a narrow nose in front in midstretch, only to surrender it to Hardest Core, with Mills hanging in tough between them.
Castellano kept after Balance the Books with a right-handed stick, and he got into a head-bob exchange with Hardest Core six strides short of the wire before prevailing.
“My horse was hesitating a little bit, but my horse is so brave that he went through,” Castellano said. “I believe the key to winning the race was when I made that move at the eighth pole. If I tried to go around them, I don’t think I would’ve won the photo finish.”
“He rode great,” Brown said. “He adapted to a slow pace. I told him to let the horse be where he’s comfortable. Obviously, in the stretch he made the right move. He gave him a beautiful ride.”
Brown said he was worried about the condition of the turf, but ultimately, Balance the Books was able to handle it, which should give the connections even more confidence heading into future turf races.
“I didn’t have a strong opinion that he wouldn’t handle it, that’s why I ran today,” Brown said. “But I was obviously concerned. He had run so well on firm, you start to think maybe he needs it. There was some give in the turf the last time he ran at Belmont when it was labeled ‘good,’ and he ran quite well. Still, you never know until they run on it, and he passed the test.”
Balance the Books, a son of Lemon Drop Kid out of the Seeking the Gold mare Kreisleriana, was purchased as a 2-year-old at the Keeneland spring sale with the idea that he would be a good horse on synthetic.
Consequently, he ran in the Spiral at Turfway Park, but finished 11th, then tried synthetic again in the Grade I Blue Grass, but was sixth behind Java’s War.
“When I bought the horse, he really trained well on the synthetic that week, so I was hoping that if it did pan out, which he did, that he could be a Blue Grass type horse,” Brown said. “So when we got to that point, I always wanted to run him back on the track I bought him on. That’s why I went the synthetic route, first the Spiral, then Keeneland.”
They won’t try that again, especially after Balance the Books won the Stroll.
Brown said he isn’t sure where they’ll go next.
The Saranac at Saratoga is a possibility, but it would be running back pretty quickly, in 18 days.
The Jamaica at Belmont may make more sense.
“For him to handle the yielding going and the slow pace, he showed that he’s matured,” Brown said. “Really, when you take the synthetic
races out, his grass races are quite good, so this horse should have a bright future ahead of him.”