By Ed McNamara
She was everybody’s single in the pick 6, and Gamine didn’t disappoint Saturday at Saratoga. Before an overflow crowd on Travers day, Bob Baffert’s superstar filly dominated the Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap.
The script played out as expected. The 1-5 favorite broke quickly from the rail, shook off early pressure from longshot Estilo Talentoso and never looked vulnerable. John Velazquez won for the fifth straight time on the 4-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, beating 18-1 Lake Avenue by 1 3/4 lengths.
“I just let her do her thing,” Velazquez said. “The track was a little deep after they harrowed it, but she won anyway. She just kind of waited, and then by the quarter pole, I asked her for what she needed to do, and she got it done.”
The time was 1:21.61 after fractions of 23.20 seconds, 45.68 and 1:09.20. Not blazing, but plenty fast enough.
Gamine improved to 9-for-10 lifetime, 9-for-9 around one turn and 4-for-4 at 7 furlongs. She’s 3-for-3 in New York, and 2-for-2 at Saratoga. Her loss came last year when she ran third in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), when 1 1/8 miles proved to be too far for her.
Fox Sports analyst Richard Migliore characterized her latest performance as “more workmanlike than brilliant.” After winning two Grade 1s, the Acorn and the Test, by a total of 25 lengths last year, anything less than a blowout can feel like a letdown. But not to her connections.
“I’m a very happy man,” owner Michael Lund Peterson said. “She is one amazing horse. They don’t come around like her very often. She is very special.”
Baffert’s longtime assistant, Jimmy Barnes, accompanied Gamine from Southern California.
Joel Rosario made it three stakes wins on the day, riding Gufo to a neck victory over Japan in this race for 4-year-olds and up
Trained by Christoph Clement, Gufo ($7.10) was sent off as the slight favorite over Aidan O’Brien-trained Japan.
Winning time for the 1 ½ miles on the turf was 2:28.30
“I am delighted with this horse and the way he ran today,’’ said Clemente after the horse earned an all-fees paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar in November. “He is a top-class horse. He’s always been a top-class horse. A mile-and-a-quarter, a mile-and-a-half, it really doesn’t matter for him. I am delighted to win this race. The race set up perfect. There was plenty of pace. The stable has been lucky (winning) that way this year. This is fun, and it’s the kind of race we like to win.”
Pace-setter Yaupon and Firenze Fire were going head to head in mid-stretch when Firenze Fire resorted to savagery in the Grade 1 Forego. The 6-year-old veteran of 36 races turned his head to the left and started biting Yaupon’s head. Whoa!
Yaupon kept going along the rail despite getting at least eight bites from Firenze Fire, who might have gone past Yaupon if he hadn’t done a four-legged impersonation of Dracula. Remarkably, Ricardo Santana, Jr., stayed cool and kept riding Yaupon, who edged away in the final strides to win by — appropriately — a head.
“I will watch that replay many times in the future,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “The finish made it that much more dramatic. I was worried he was going to bite Ricardo.”
Santana was concerned, too.
“That was kind of scary,” he said. “That never happened to me before, and the only thing I could think is don’t stop riding.”
Migliore said he’d never seen a savaging incident last for so long.
It was also a shocker for Jose Ortiz, on Firenze Fire. “Honestly, it was really weird,” Ortiz said. “I’ve never been in that before. I know he’d done it one time (before), but it wasn’t as bad as today.”
Yaupon paid $6 after going 7 furlongs in 1:21.74 for his sixth win in eight starts. He was 4-for-4 before finishing eighth as the 6-5 favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“Everybody’s always known what a brilliant horse he is,” Asmussen said, “and for him to show up today on a Grade 1 stage and beat five Grade 1 winners was amazing.”
Jackie’s Warrior takes Allen Jerkens
It was billed and bet as a two-horse race, and Jackie’s Warrior, the 3-2 second choice, and 4-5 favorite Life Is Good put on a terrific show in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkens Stakes for 3-year-olds.
Front-runners had won the first four dirt races on the card, and the previously unbeaten Life Is Good looked like he’d make it 5-for-5. He blasted through fractions of 21.97 and 44.16 seconds, showing why he would have been the Kentucky Derby favorite if he hadn’t suffered a minor injury in the spring.
Jackie’s Warrior showed his grit and class by surging in mid-stretch for Joel Rosario to gain the lead. Life Is Good came back under Mike Smith but fell short by a neck, his first defeat in four races.
“When Jackie got to the head of the stretch the way he did, we had our chance,” Asmussen said. “Joel came into the stretch with horse, and Jackie is going to run to the wire.”
The time for 7 furlongs was 1:21.3.
Life Is Good hadn’t run since crushing his former stablemate, first-place Derby finisher Medina Spirit, by eight lengths in early March. China Horse Club and WinStar Farms switched Life Is Good from Baffert to Todd Pletcher after the post-Derby drug controversy involving Medina Spirit.
“He never stops trying,” Smith said. “It was his first race back. We’re asking him to run against the best sprinters in the country, if not the world, and for him to run like he did was pretty incredible.”
Jackie’s Warrior improved to 7-for-9 overall and 4-for-4 at Saratoga as he gave Asmussen back-to-back Grade 1 wins.
Letruska prevails in Personal Ensign
On paper, the Grade 1 Personal Ensign was all about Letruska, and the best older dirt mare in the country came up big again.
As expected, Irad Ortiz, Jr. put the 5-year-old on the lead out of the gate, and the 3-5 favorite stayed there all the way. A group of challengers came at her late, but she hung on by a half-length over longshot Bonny South. The time for 9 furlongs was 1:49.15.
“She’s a special horse,” Ortiz said. “I am very excited and happy for the trainer, Fausto Gutierrez. He’s done such a great job with her.”
It was the 16th victory in 21 starts for the daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby hero Super Saver. She’s won four consecutive graded stakes, is a head short of a seven-race winning streak, and 9-for-13 the past two seasons.
Viadera takes Ballston Spa
Viadera wins a lot but never by much, and she couldn’t have cut it any closer this time. The 4-5 favorite made chalk players nervous as she rallied to beat longshot High Opinion by a nose in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa. The 5-year-old mare rebounded from a bad-trip fourth Aug. 8 in her 2021 debut for trainer Chad Brown, who won for the 10th time in four days.
Joel Rosario rode Viadera, who paid $3.60 for her seventh victory in 15 races, all on grass, for international superpower Juddmonte Farms. She ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.82.
The margins in her last five wins: head, neck, neck, nose, nose.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.