Burn, baby. Burn.
That’s what Loudonville’s Roddy Valente will be hoping for when the sun comes up today. If there’s any lingering moisture in the main track at Saratoga Race Course, he’ll want it baked out by post time for the Grade I Ballerina.
He’s got his homebred Hot Stones running in her first Grade I, two races after winning the Grade III Bed o’ Roses at Belmont Park. In her last start, the Grade III Shuvee, a muddy track worked against her, and she finished third to Antipathy by 3 1⁄4 lengths under jockey John Velazquez.
“I think the racetrack hindered her more than anything,” Valente said. “She really never took to the surface. When Johnny V got off her, he said, ‘She didn’t lose the race, the track beat her.’ And I agree with him, because he was in a drive with her the whole way around, but she just didn’t like the slop.”
The seven-furlong Ballerina, for fillies and mares 3 and older, is a “Win and You’re In” race for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
This time around, Hot Stones will carry Irad Ortiz Jr., who won the Bed o’ Roses with her, as well as an optional claimer at Aqueduct in March.
Hot Stones is 6-1 on the morning line, which is highlighted by 3-1 My Miss Aurelia and 4-1 Better Lucky, who squared off in the Shine Again here on July 21, with Better Lucky beating Grace Hall by a head and My Miss Aurelia by a half-length.
Valente, though, is most concerned with 7-2 second choice La Verdad, who had won four in a row and nine of 10 before a fifth here in the six-furlong Grade II Honorable Miss on a sloppy track on July 28.
“La Verdad is actually the class of the race,” Valente said. “She’s got speed. I know they took her back last time, going three-quarters, and it didn’t work out for them. But there’s a couple other horses in there that I think will make it an honest pace. We had a good draw, getting the 8 hole.
“Irad is 2-for-2 on her, and we’re glad to have him. He’s the flavor of the week right now. It’s a good opportunity for us. From the 8 hole, you can figure out what’s going on inside of you, and I think she could sit a cozy trip.”
Linda Rice trains La Verdad, who will carry Jose Ortiz and top weight (along with Better Lucky) of 119 pounds. She was unable to make the lead in that last start, instead stalking the pace and unable to close.
“Everything went so poorly, and she still wound up beaten only three lengths,” Rice said. “So, we’ll forgive her. I think that seven-eighths may not be her best distance. I rather it be six or 6 1⁄2, but she’s come out of the race very well, and she breezed excellently the other day.”
She has worked twice since coming to Saratoga, both bullet breezes. On July 20, a week before the Honorable Miss, she went four furlongs in :47.01 to be fastest among 105 at that distance. On Aug. 17, she went four furlongs in :47.91, fastest of 70. Rice said when she breaks from the 6 post today, she will head to the front again.
The race also features Grade I Frizette winner Artemis Agrotera and multiple stakes winner Willet, Kipling’s Joy, Voodoo Tales and Geeky Gorgeous.
It’s a good assortment of talent that Valente would relish beating. He’s won Grade I’s before, a couple of them with Hot Stones’ sire Bustin Stones, but every chance to win a big one at his home track is a treat.
“For me, personally, it’s like running in the Kentucky Derby, because it’s in our back yard and it’s a Grade I at Saratoga,” Valente said. “It means as much, for me, to win here as anywhere in the world.”
FAST AND FIRM
Just as a dried-out main track would help Hot Stones, good firm turf course would better suit Abaco in the Grade II Ballston Spa. The 4-1 third choice in the 1 1⁄16-mile grass run for fillies and mares 3 and older, Abaco always seems to be right in the mix. She is 1-3-2 from her last eight starts, usually within two lengths of the winner. Most recently, she was fourth here in the Grade I Diana, 1 1⁄2 lengths behind the victorious Somali Lemonade.
Abaco closes strongly whether the pace is fast or slow, but trainer Shug McGaughey said he’s looking for a quick pace today.
“She’s been doing really good,” he said Thursday. “She had a really good breeze here the other day, and she was about to jump out of her skin here, this morning. Obviously, I’d like to catch a little bit of a firmer turf, but if this rain stops, it’ll be fine.”
Abaco will break from post 3, just inside of Strathnaver, who was sixth in the Diana and just a length back from Abaco, and just outside of Centre Court, who was a close fifth two back in the Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, a race she won last year. That win made her 6-4-0 from her first 10 starts through 2012 and 2013.
The 2-1 first-choice, Filimbi, last won the De La Rose here on Aug. 2, beating 5-2 second choice Dayatthespa by 13⁄4 lengths. Trainer Chad Brown said he may scratch Dayatthespa and run her in Sunday’s Yaddo, instead, depending on how the fields turned up.
McGaughey also was under the impression 15-1 Nellie Cashman may skip the race in favor of one at Monmouth, but he’s OK if the field of seven shortens up a bit.
“I’d rather have a short field than a big field, any day,” McGaughey said. “You don’t have that many to beat. It’ll be interesting.”