Trainer Mike Hushion will no doubt be looking at spots for Artemis Agrotera at Saratoga Race Course next summer.
The 3-year-old filly he trains for Chester and Mary Broman blew away the competition in the Grade I Ballerina — a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event — to go to 3-for-3 at the track, with a combined winning margin of 281⁄4 lengths. Those performances were in stark contrast to her last two Grade I tries, where she finished way back by a combined 251⁄2 lengths.
“You know, this filly has always acted like a special filly every day I’ve had her,” Hushion said, “so I was more confused by the couple of times she didn’t run well and never surprised when she shows up big.”
She won a six-furlong race here in her debut as a 2-year-old by 113⁄4 lengths, then won a seven-furlong allowance option claimer early in this meet by 101⁄4 lengths. Between those races, she ran in three Grade I races, winning the Frizette last October and getting left behind in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and then beaten badly again this June in the Acorn.
Hushion said the key may have been asking her for easier morning works.
“Just lightened up on her a little,” he said. “She’s a filly that apparently does better off a little light training than five-eighths in a minute every six days.”
La Verdad broke with the lead and carried it through fractions of 23.14 and 45.78 before surrendering it to Artemis Agrotera entering the stretch. Under jockey Rajiv Maragh, Artemis Agrotera had sat just a length off La Verdad’s pace.
Artemis Agrotera kicked away easily, denying the closing favorite My Miss Aurelia any chance. That Todd Pletcher-trainee had more in the tank than any of her other rivals, but she had no chance at catching the winner, who was content with her big lead and actually slowed a few dozen yards before the wire.
“I was gearing down inside the sixteenth pole because she had the race wrapped up and was powering away,” Maragh said. “I don’t think I squeezed the lemon dry. I think she has more to give.”
“I left it to Rajiv,” Hushion said of the strategy for the race. “We talked about it this morning, and let him know he was going to take the path of least resistance. She barked out of there pretty good, and he took it from there. It worked out well.”
My Miss Aurelia’s return to racing after a layoff of 16 months was a third-place finish in the Shine Again here on
July 21. Pletcher had hoped to see her move forward from that in the Ballerina, but he didn’t express any disappointment in her runner-up finish.
“I thought our filly ran well,” he said. “We were just second best today.”
“She broke slowly from the gate, and I waited a little for her to get settled,” said My Miss Aurelia jockey John Velazquez. “She had a little bit of a good run, but the other horses weren’t slowing down.”
Artemis Agrotera returned $10.60, $5.80 and $4.00 in the win. My Miss Aurelia paid $4.80 and $3.50, while third-place Willet returned $3.40 to show.
It didn’t take long after this performance for the decision to be made about the Breeders’ Cup.
“I heard that Mr. Broman told the last interviewer that we’re going,” Hushion said, “so it sounds good to me.”
In the paddock before the Grade II Ballston Spa, trainer Shug McGaughey at least knew he was likely to get a good run from Abaco. She closed from last in the six-horse field to beat Strathnaver by a neck, covering the 1 1/16-mile turf race in 1:42.64.
“I knew they were going to know she was in there,” McGaughey said. “I didn’t know whether she was going to get there or not, but I liked the way she was positioned the whole race. She’s trained really well, she’s done really well up here. I watched her the other day and said to my assistant, ‘She’s never looked this good.’ When you get her in the paddock and she’s a little bit like this [imitates Abaco in paddock], she’ll usually give it to you.’ When we saddle her, if she doesn’t rear up a time or two, chances are we’re not going to get it.”
Abaco, a 6-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway, trailed pacesetter Night Song by six lengths after the first quarter-mile. She pulled in closer along the backstretch, but was still last as the entire field was within four lengths of each other.
Jockey Jose Ortiz guided her to the outside, and she charged to the wire as Night Song faded. Favored Filimbi had stalked the pace, but was unable to fire under Joel Rosario as they entered the stretch, finishing last.
“She doesn’t have any speed, so we have to rate her from behind, and today was the perfect trip,” Ortiz said. “Down the backside, I was behind the favorite, and that was the one I wanted to follow. I was right there, and when I turned for home, I knew she was going to give me the big move she gave me last time. By the eighth pole, I knew I had Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Strathnaver]. I passed everybody else, so I knew there wasn’t anybody else coming.”
“She was just flat,” trainer Bill Mott said of Filimbi. “No excuse. The ground might not have been preferable, but she was just flat.”
Abaco, who finished fourth here in the Grade I Diana on July 19 by 11⁄3 lengths, paid $10.60, $4.40 and $3.20 in the win. Strathnaver, who was sixth in the Diana by 21⁄4 lengths, paid $5.00 and $4.20, while Nellie Cashman returned $5.90 to show.
McGaughey said he will likely point Abaco to the Grade I Flower Bowl at 11⁄4 miles at Belmont Park on Sept. 27, and he is hopeful she continues to show her quality to convince him to bring her to the Breeders’ Cup.
“I believe the Flower Bowl back at New York going a mile and a quarter,” McGaughey said. “A mile and a sixteenth is not her deal, but I think coming off this race, it’s not until the end of September, the Flower Bowl, so I’ve got five or six weeks now to sort of piddle with her. I think going a mile and a quarter will be even a little bit better for her.”