SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Reigning Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Wavell Avenue headlines a stellar cast of 10 set to contest the 38th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina on Saturday as she looks for her second straight graded stakes victory at Saratoga Race Course.
With the prestigious win, Wavell Avenue would achieve millionaire status and at the same time secure her spot in the starting gate for this year's edition of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. The Ballerina is a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the event to be held at Santa Anita Park November 4.
"It sure is nice to have that at stake on top of the Grade 1 status of this race," said Chad Brown, who trains the 4-year-old filly and is seeking his first Ballerina trophy. "I'm glad this race is included in the Breeders' Cup program and we're excited about running her on Saturday."
Owned by Michael Dubb, David Simon, Bethlehem Stables and Head of Plains Partners LLC, Wavell Avenue recorded her first win since last year's Breeders' Cup when she took the $100,000 Shine Again at the Spa at the identical seven-furlong distance of the Ballerina in her last start on August 3.
"She's doing really well coming into this race. She had a local prep over the track and ran well. She's come back and breezed since and has been spectacular. She seems to be pretty sharp around the barn and I think she's ready to run a big one," said Brown, who awarded the call to Irad Ortiz, Jr.
In a race that appears to have plenty of pace, the late kick of Wavell Avenue, who has bankrolled $988,125 from seven wins in 17 starts, should work to her advantage.
"I think there is enough speed up front and she can stick to her normal style and make one run and hopefully get there," said Brown, who currently leads in the Saratoga trainers' standings. "We're looking for a clean trip. Two races back, at Belmont when she got beat, she had a nightmare trip and got caught wide on the backside. It just didn't set up for her off a slow pace. Hopefully she'll have a fair shot."
That sentiment was echoed by the connections of Seajay Racing LLC's Spelling Again, who comes in fresh from a layoff following her gutsy victory in the Grade 2 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park on July 2.
"When you have one who is doing this well and you're going into a race like this, you just hope that she gets a fair shake and the chance to run her race," said Brittany Trimble, who runs trainer Brad Cox's division in Saratoga.
The 5-year-old Spelling Again, who was bred in Kentucky by George Strawbridge and previously ran in his Augustin Stable colors, competed on the grass until Cox claimed her for $40,000 in May of 2015 and switched her to the dirt. She subsequently became a first-time stakes winner, added a pair of Grade 2 scores to her resume, and could give Cox his initial stakes win at Saratoga as well as the first Grade 1 victory of his career.
"The Ballerina is a very big deal for us. Brad will be here to saddle her and all of the owners are coming," said Trimble. "She's been up here for a couple of weeks and has worked twice over the track and just loved it, so we're all pretty excited."
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who will be inducted into Saratoga's Walk of Fame on Friday, will saddle Carina Mia for Three Chimneys Farm LLC. The 3-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon won the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont two starts back and was the runner-up to the undefeated and reigning 2-Year-Old Filly Champion Songbird in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks here last time out.
"She's doing fine. Her last race was a good effort and she ran a good race and came out of the Coaching Club in good order," said Mott, who partners the filly with Joel Rosario for the first time. Birdatthewire, conditioned by Dale Romans - who upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in last year's Grade 1 Travers - and Sheer Drama are the other Grade 1 winners in the field of fillies and mares.
Sheer Drama captured the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes at 1 1/8 miles here last year on Travers Day but her lone victory since came in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Madison at Keeneland this past April.
David Fawkes trains the 6-year-old mare, who finished fourth in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Distaff at 1 1/8 miles, and in his opinion the half-sister to Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Big Drama is now better suited to shorter distances.
"The last couple of times she ran going longer, she didn't have that kick she had in that seven-eighths race. I think this is a good opportunity to turn back," said Fawkes.
The Ballerina will be run as Race 7 of 13 on Saturday's card, which is highlighted by the 147th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets.
The field, in post-position order with riders is: Birdatthewire (Junior Alvarado); By the Moon (Javier Castellano); Paulassilverlining (Jose Ortiz); Sheer Drama (Joe Bravo); Sarah Sis (Florent Geroux); Linda Linda (Jose Lezcano); Spelling Again (Luis Saez); Wavell Avenue (Irad Ortiz, Jr.); Carina Mia (Joel Rosario); and Haveyougoneaway (John Velazquez).
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