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My Miss Aurelia and Better Lucky Meet Again in Ballerina

 

Although it only featured four starters, the Shine Again restricted dirt stakes on July 21 looked about as tough as a race can get, with Grade 1 winners Better Lucky, Grace Hall and 2011 Juvenile Filly Champion My Miss Aurelia hooking up in an epic battle.

 

Better Lucky, a distant 12 lengths back on the turn for home, unleashed a tremendous charge though the lane to mow down the field in the final strides and beat Grace Hall by a head with My Miss Aurelia a half-length back.

 

For Better Lucky, the race was her first start following an uncharacteristic eighth-place finish a month before in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game on the grass. My Miss Aurelia, meantime, had not run since March 2013. Now, the two will clash again with much more at stake in the 36th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

 

The seven-furlong race for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event, with the winner gaining an automatic berth into the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

 

The Ballerina is also the third leg of a special $1 million Guaranteed All Stakes Pick 4, which includes the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King's Bishop; and climaxes with the 145th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers, the "Mid-Summer Derby." 

 

The Ballerina and the Travers will be broadcast live on NBC as a part of the "Summer at Saratoga: Breeders' Cup Challenge Series" beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET.

 

The Ballerina, which drew a field of nine, is by no means a two-horse race. It also attracted 2013 Grade 1 winner Artemis Agrotera, Grade 2 winner La Verdad, Grade 3 winner Hot Stones, New York-bred star Willet, and multiple stakes winner Geeky Gorgeous.

 

Better Lucky, 4-1 on the morning line, and My Miss Aurelia, the 3-1 favorite, however, are the most accomplished.

 

Better Lucky, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper mare that runs for Godolphin Racing, has been one of the top female turf milers in the country since winning the Grade 1 Matriarch in late 2012 at Betfair Hollywood Park. She also annexed the Grade 1 First lady last year at Keeneland and finished second earlier this year in the Grade 1 Madison over the Keeneland Polytrack.

 

Now, however, she has been moved by trainer Tom Albertrani to the dirt in an attempt to test her versatility and increase her value as a broodmare. Better Lucky began her career as a dirt runner, placing third in the Busher Stakes as a 3-year-old, and only moved to the turf when Albertrani perceived he had found a soft spot in a graded stakes.

 

After the Shine Again, it's clear Better Lucky runs on anything.

 

"We felt like we've accomplished enough with her on the grass - she's won two Grade 1s - that if she takes back to the dirt as we saw in the Shine Again, the Ballerina would be a logical race to try her back," Albertrani said. "She's been training as well as I've ever seen her."

 

Better Lucky showed resiliency and a strong turn of foot rallying from far back in a short field to win the Shine Again. She figures to have a fast pace to run at in the Ballerina.

 

My Miss Aurelia, the Stonestreet Stables star who has won three of four starts at Saratoga, wound up forced to press a half-mile in 44.62 seconds, which was asking a lot of a 5-year-old mare that had been off since March 2013. Still, she just missed in the race, and trainer Todd Pletcher expects a top effort in the Ballerina.

 

"I think [the Shine Again], hopefully, will move her forward," Pletcher said. "I thought she ran hard that day. It was a long time since she'd run, and the complexion of the race forced us to get her involved early. I think she needed that run, so I've been pleased with the way she's trained. I thought her last breeze was particularly good and, hopefully, an indication she's in top form for this."

 

Pletcher envisions My Miss Aurelia eventually returning to route races, especially since she won the 2011 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, 2012 Grade 1 Cotillion and finished second to the great Royal Delta in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

 

Yet, he said the Ballerina was the right race at this time.

 

"We just felt like with one seven-furlong race under her belt, the Ballerina was perhaps a better option than the [Grade 1, $500,000] Personal Ensign [Invitational at 1 1/8 miles on Friday]," he said. "If she had had two races . . ."

 

Trainer Linda Rice will run the 7-2 second choice La Verdad in the Ballerina, and the speedster has won nine of 12 career starts. After reeling off four straight victories - all in stakes races - the 4-year-old daughter of Yes It's True caught a sloppy track and the inside post in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss on July 28 at the Spa and wound up fifth, beaten 3 ¼ lengths.

 

While a six-furlong pace specialist, La Verdad won at a mile at Belmont Park and finished second in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie at seven furlongs this past winter at Laurel Park.

 

"Everything went 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 ½, but she's come out of the race very well and she breezed excellently the other day. How many Grade 1s do you have for fillies and mares sprinting?"

 

Asked if La Verdad would gun for the lead, Rice said, "Yes."

 

Lightly raced Artemis Agrotera, 5-1 on the morning line, also is likely to show speed as she breaks from the rail for owner-breeders Chester and Mary Broman and trainer Michael Hushion.

 

The 3-year-old daughter of Roman Ruler broke her maiden by 11 ¾ lengths last summer at Saratoga and then took the Grade 1 Frizette in her second start over stars Sweet Reason and Stopchargingmaria at Belmont Park.

 

After finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Artemis Agrotera was put away until June, when she returned to finish a disastrous eighth in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park. She came back 1 ½ months later in a far easier spot, an optional claimer for New York breds at seven furlongs, and scored by 10 ¼ lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 97.

 

"I just decided that, in my opinion, she fits very well in the race," Hushion said, "and for a Grade 1 for all that money, it's time to go while she's good. If she wasn't rounding out to her old-time form, I don't think she would have run as well as she did [in the optional claimer] no matter who she was running against."

 

Willet, 6-1, has proven a terror against New York-bred sprinters in her career and makes a rare foray into open company. In 2012, she just missed in the Grade 2 Go For Wand by a neck at Belmont Park and finished fourth in the race last year. She comes off a powerful allowance score at six furlongs July 30 at the Spa, where she has never missed being in the exacta in five starts.

 

Geeky Gorgeous, 20-1, recent gate-to-wire winner of the Regret Stakes at Monmouth Park; Hot Stones, 6-1, who took the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses Handicap on June 21 at Belmont Park in her only try at seven furlongs; Voodoo Tales, 15-1; and Kipling's Joy, 30-1, complete the field.

 

 

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