1/ST BET Race of the Week: Grade 1 $300,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga

By Jeremy Plonk  (Xpressbet editor-in-chief) 

August 6, 2020 06:53 PM

The Lead:

Travers Day at Saratoga on Saturday features 5 stakes overall, headlined by the Midsummer Derby in Race 11. But the all-stakes Pick Five begins in Race 7 with the Grade 1 Ballerina, which may be the most appealing betting race of the group. Top national sprint fillies and mares from New York, Kentucky, Florida and California converge in a regional showdown.

Field Depth:   

SERENGETI EMPRESS, BELLAFINA and defending champ COME DANCING all are Grade 1 winners. PINK SAND is a Grade 2 winner, while COOKIE DOUGH and VICTIM OF LOVE have had success at the Grade 3 level. Mexican Group 1 winner LETRUSKA has a listed stakes victory in the US. This is a strong group.



Expect a rapid and contended pace over the tough, 7-furlong trip. Regardless of sprint or route, SERENGETI EMPRESS is very fast from the rail, as is COOKIE DOUGH in the 2-hole and LETRUSKA from post 5. VICTIM OF LOVE figures to be pressing the issue as well. Look for BELLAFINA to get first run from mid-pack over the deeper closers COME DANCING and PINK SANDS. With this pace and distance, those off-the-pace have a solid chance.

Our Eyes: 

COME DANCING and VICTIM OF LOVE exit a 1-2 finish in the Grade 3 Vagrancy in which the latter pulled a 27-1 upset while near the front throughout. Expect VICTIM OF LOVE to take more pace pressure here, and as the trip extends from 6-1/2 furlongs to 7 furlongs, those combining factors should shift the power to COME DANCING. Plus, COME DANCING is 2-for-3 lifetime at Saratoga, and has run some of her best BRIS late pace figures when going this very distance. At age 6,  it's reasonable to wonder if she has the same acceleration as past years, however.

SERENGETI EMPRESS danced all the dances as a 3-year-old in 2019, winning the Kentucky Oaks before finishing on the board in races like the Acorn, Test at Saratoga, and the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She has raced 4 times this year, all in routes, and will turn back to the same trip as the Test. From the rail, expect Luis Saez to send her to her customary space at the front of the pack. SERENETI EMPRESS has won just 1 of 8 since capturing the Oaks, and that came on a sloppy track. 

BELLAFINA was beaten favorite in SERENGETI EMPRESS' Kentucky Oaks score, and similarly to that one has just a single victory in her last 8 starts. Six times during that run she was favored, and lost 5 of those bids. She also finished behind SERENGETI EMPRESS in the Test over this track and distance in 2019. While Californian BELLAFINA has been popular at the windows, this might be the time she rises in price a bit, and the pace set-up should work in her favor. Let the price be your guide; she's appealing around 4-1 or more, but not trustworthy enough if less.

PINK SANDS might be the strongest closer in the group. The impeccably bred 5-year-old is by Tapit and out of Grade 1 Prioress winner Her Smile, third in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She was too close to a fast pace going 1-1/16 miles in the Grade 1 Phipps. Expect her to drop back and make one late run under Irad Ortiz Jr. in the Ballerina. Her 107 and 105 BRIS late pace figures in elongated, 1-turn races at Gulfstream this winter are the blueprint for her success. PINK SANDS has won over the track at Saratoga, taking a 6-1/2 furlong maiden sprint a few summers back.

COOKIE DOUGH was collared late in Gulfstream's Rampart over a 1-turn mile and has unmistakable speed. She got in front of SERENGETI EMPRESS last out in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn before tiring badly. She's trained with bullet works at Gulfstream and locally at Saratoga since that April 2-turn route. Expect her to come out breathing fire under John Velazquez and be a part of the pace.

LETRUSKA rounds out the field, and while a longshot to win this, she's a very important cog in the engine. In 5 starts since coming north from Mexico, she's made the lead easily in all 5, on dirt and turf, at Gulfstream and Oaklawn. Her speed appears to translate, and it's very fast on early pace numbers. Expect her and jockey Ricardo Santana to make them all work a bit harder early.

Most Certain Exotics Contender:  BELLAFINA struggles to deliver the knockout punch, but she's 15-for-15 in the superfecta lifetime in races at 1-1/16 miles or shorter ... and she gets a good pace set-up to hit the board again.

Best Longshot Exotics Contender:  PINK SANDS should not be any better than fourth choice in a 7-horse field and she should come flying late with every chance to pull the minor upset.

Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $70 win PINK SANDS. $15 exacta box PINK SANDS and COME DANCING.  

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