Dance to Bristol has every reason to come into today’s Ballerina on her toes at Saratoga Race Course.
The 4-year-old Speightstown filly has won her last six races, including the Grade III Bed o’ Roses at Belmont in June and the Grade II Honorable Miss here on July 29. She’ll be walking pretty coming into her first Grade I start, though, so trainer Ollie Figgins is experiencing a mix of confidence and anxiety ahead of the $500,000 race.
“It’s a good feeling, you know, to have a horse that is that consistent,” Figgins said. “It also brings a bit of stress, a little bit of pressure. You’d hate to lose one, but in these types of races, it could happen, for sure.”
Dance to Bristol has run the seven-furlong distance of the Ballerina four times, finishing second her first two tries and winning her last two tries. The last of those was the Bed o’ Roses, when she finished in 1:204⁄5 to just miss the track record at Belmont, which is 1:20.17, set July 4, 2002 by Left Bank.
“I think she relishes the distance,” Figgins said. “I think she loves the one-turn seven-eighths. I don’t like the post position, but I think with it being seven-eighths, we’ll get a good fair shake at it.”
Three of her six straight wins, though, have come at six furlongs. The streak actually started with a win at 5 1⁄2 furlongs in an optional claimer.
The last two times she has stretched out a bit, though, the distance has suited her. Two races before the Bed o’ Roses, she won the $200,000 Sugar Maple in 1:233⁄5 and by nine lengths.
Figgins isn’t thrilled about drawing the rail for the start, but he figures the extra furlong should provide jockey Xavier Perez a few seconds to find space when he needs it. And if the pace doesn’t set up in front of the filly, she’s got some speed of her own.
“The way to overcome it is, we have a filly who is pretty handy,” Figgins said. “She’s got some speed, herself. She’s an easy horse to put where you need her to be. If they break and everybody kind of goes hard, we’re comfortable sitting off the pace. If not, and the horse wants to show speed, we have speed.”
Perez took the mount for an optional claimer on Feb. 6 and has done nothing but win with Dance to Bristol. He has been up for all six of her recent wins. For her career, she is 9-7-0 from 17 starts.
Figgins said he looked at the field and thinks he may see how the race will shape up, but if the Honorable Miss was any indication, all guesswork will fly out the window once the gate opens.
“Our last race, the horses who showed speed before kind of didn’t [have any], and the horses that didn’t have that much speed seemed to have more speed,” he said. “If the race runs true to form, there’s a couple of fast horses on the outside. I think Fantasy of Flight has a lot of speed. Classic Point showed a lot of speed last time, and if she shows the same type of speed, I imagine she will go. So I’m hoping to be two or three lengths from the lead and just have someplace to go when we need to, you know?”
Fantasy of Flight was second to Dance to Bristol in the Bed o’ Roses, and Classic Point was second by a neck in the Honorable Miss. They are 15-1 and 8-1, respectively, on the morning line today.
Dance to Bristol is the 3-1 first choice, while Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Book Review is the second choice at 5-2. Judy the Beauty, who has finished first or second in all 10 of her career starts, is the third choice at 5-1.
Book Review won the Grade II A Gleam at Hollywood Park on July 13, finishing the seven furlongs in 1:223⁄5 . She also won the seven-furlong Grade I La Brea at Santa Anita in December. The 4-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway is 5-0-0 in six starts at the distance, making up a good portion of her success as she is 6-4-1 in 13 career races.
Her only defeat at the distance is in last year’s Grade I Test at Saratoga, when she was seventh.
“She’s a filly that seven-eighths is her best distance,” Baffert said. “Most of her wins come at seven-eighths. She needs a lot of speed, and it’s got to set up for her a little bit. She comes from off the pace, so we’re looking forward to her — and [Rafael]
Bejarano, he’s excited about riding her. It’s a huge race to win, and winning in Saratoga is pretty special.”
Judy the Beauty has run just once at this distance, finishing second in the Grade I Spinaway here in 2011. Also at Saratoga, the 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper was second in last year’s Prioress, a nose behind Emma’s Encore.