The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on Saturday with the $300,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, which serves as a prestigious qualifier for the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland.
Held over seven-eighths of a mile on dirt, the Grade 1 Ballerina has been a prominent steppingstone toward the Filly and Mare Sprint ever since Maryfield won both races in 2007, the first year the Filly and Mare Sprint was contested. Considering the number of talented fillies entered in the 2020 Ballerina, it will come as no surprise to see the next Breeders’ Cup winner emerge from Saturday’s deep and competitive race.
But wait … is there too much talent entered in the Ballerina field? Ironic as it might seem, the number of fast fillies entered in the Ballerina might compromise the chances of some key contenders.
For example, take #1 Serengeti Empress. Winner of the 2019 Longines Kentucky Oaks racing 1 1/8 miles, Serengeti Empress is one of the most accomplished horses in the Ballerina field. While she’s spent the majority of her career running a mile or farther, she also ran a big race at the same track and distance as the Ballerina last summer, finishing a close second in the Test Stakes after sprinting the opening half-mile in a blazing :44.28. The winner, Covfefe, demonstrated the strength of the race by going on to triumph in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
But here’s the problem — Serengeti Empress is a front-runner, and she’s not the only pure speedster entered in the Ballerina. #2 Cookie Dough won the one-mile Royal Delta Stakes during the winter and loves to run fast on the front end. Her recent workouts down at Gulfstream Park — a blazing half-mile in :45 1/5, followed by two five-eighths of a mile moves in :58 3/5 and :57 3/5 — suggest her speed has been sharpened to a peak for Saturday.
#5 Letruska, a two-time Group 1 winner in Mexico, has set the pace in all five of her U.S. starts and will certainly be a factor on the front end at Saraotga. And #3 Victim of Love employed pace-pressing tactics to win the Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont Park in June, so even if the front-runners try to relax, Victim of Love figures to immediately crank up the heat.
Grade 1 winners #4 Bellafina and #7 Come Dancing could also be compromised by an intense early pace. While they’re perfectly comfortable rating a few lengths off the lead, their riders will have to be careful not to pounce too soon, or they’ll risk flattening out in the homestretch. Because as accomplished as Bellafina and Come Dancing might be — the former has won seven graded stakes and the latter dominated the 2019 Ballerina — their recent efforts haven’t been as strong as in the past. Bellafina has lost seven of her last eight starts, while Come Dancing has been defeated three times in a row.
All this is a roundabout way of saying #6 Pink Sands could be a dangerous longshot contender in the Ballerina. As the only genuine deep closer in the field, Pink Sands won’t run the risk of moving too soon into a hot pace. Instead, she can settle far behind and pick up the pieces late, as she did when rallying to eye-catching victories in the Rampart and Inside Information Stakes during the winter at Gulfstream Park.
From a Brisnet Speed rating perspective, Pink Sands is more or less as fast as her Ballerina rivals, and the Brisnet Late Pace ratings she posted in the Rampart and Inside Information — 105 and 107 — are very strong. Really the only reason Pink Sands will be a longshot on Saturday is because she finished a distant fifth in the Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont last time out, but the 1 1/16-mile distance probably was a bit beyond her best, and she also was running for the first time in 4 1/2 months.
Trainer Shug McGaughey and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. have both been hot at Saratoga this summer (Ortiz is actually the leading rider at the meet), so Pink Sands warrants respect from a connections standpoint. With the right setup, she can come rallying to spring a surprise in the Ballerina.
If you’re playing the Ballerina on a small budget, betting Pink Sands to win and place is a conservative way to seek a fair return on investment. But if you have more money to spend and wish to aim for a heftier payoff, keying Pink Sands in the exacta with Serengeti Empress and Come Dancing offers the potential for a richer reward.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$4 to win on #6 Pink Sands
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 7th race, $4 to win on 6
$6 to place on #6 Pink Sands
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 7th race, $6 to place on 6
Wagering Strategy on a $24 Budget
$8 to win on #6 Pink Sands
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 7th race, $8 to win on 6
$2 exacta: 6 with 1,7 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 7th race, $2 exacta: 6 with 1,7
$6 exacta: 1,7 with 6 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 7th race, $6 exacta: 1,7 with 6
Good luck, and enjoy the race!