Travers Day JUMP START Part 1: Ballston Spa, Personal Ensign & Ballerina

Lady Eli - Photo Credit: NYRA

With over $5 million in purse money spread over six Grade-1 and one Grade-2 Stakes races at Saratoga on Saturday, August 27th, the Travers Day card is one of the biggest days of horse racing this year in the nation. The recently “super-sized” card lends itself to amazing wagering opportunities for those that have been following the best stakes horses in the country throughout the year.

The Saratoga JUMP STARTs on have been highlighting the top Stakes at the meet all summer long to get you prepared early each week. This week, we’ll sharpen our pencils to give you a three-part series to kick off your preparations for this most important day of racing at “The Spa.”

We’ll attempt to not “regurgitate” the Past Performances and go beyond to provide an early analysis of the Graded Stakes fields including: injury and insider news, trainer talk, pace analysis, trip notes from previous races, workout evaluations and links to key replays to evaluate for the big races.

In this Part One, we’ll focus on the three female Graded Stakes races (Ballston Spa, Ballerina and Personal Ensign) on Travers Day. Part 2 here solely focuses on the Travers Stakes and Part 3 focuses on the three male Graded Stakes races (Forego, King’s Bishop and Sword Dancer).

Also, we’ll be providing LIVE BLOG coverage of Travers Day from the paddock, winners’ circle and all over Saratoga this Saturday, so keep checking and follow us on Twitter @racing_dudes and @SaratogaSlim for more information.

Without further delay, let’s get JUMP STARTED for Travers’ Day here:

Sat., Aug. 27, Grade-2 Ballston Spa, $400,000 purse, Fillies & Mares 3 years old & up, 1 & 1/16 miles (Turf)

We start by looking at the top story of the meet as the undefeated Lady Eli will step back into the starting gate for the first time in the Ballston Spa since winning the Grade-1 Belmont Oaks in July 2015. Her amazing strength to overcome a bout with laminitis after stepping on a nail after the 2015 Belmont Oaks is as heartfelt of a story that you can ever hear in horse racing. The great team of veterinarians and trainer Chad Brown’s barn led by assistant trainer Cherie DeVaux is a story in human and equine perseverance that cannot be underestimated.

By all accounts, Lady Eli has been working great at the Oklahoma turf training track at Saratoga. She put in works early in her comeback with a three-year old filly named Grey Stark who used those works to win an allowance race at Saratoga on July 29. Lady Eli then put in a string of impressive works alongside four-year old filly Sea Calisi, who was primed from those practice runs to take the Grade-1 Beverly D. at Arlington Park on Millions Day on August 13. If these efforts by Lady Eli’s work partners are any gauge of her fitness level in her comeback, she should be ready to put in a very nice effort in her return here.

Earlier in the week, Lady Eli’s owner Sheep Pond Partners decided to purchase Sympathy from Highclere America with intentions to run her in here as a pacemaker for Lady Eli. Sympathy is only an allowance winner two back and her early speed may not even be enough to last the opening stages, but if she brings a few along with her early, then she’d have done her job.

Still, it won’t be a walk in the park for Lady Eli, as two top rivals that have faced her in the past will line up against her again in Miss Temple City and Sentiero Italia. The world-travelling Miss Temple City wheeled back on somewhat short rest in the Grade-1 Diana on opening Saratoga weekend after a valiant fourth in England at Royal Ascot in mid-June. The Graham Motion trainee got fourth in a four-way photo by a neck in the Diana and with a little racing luck she scores a huge win there. She beat the boys three back in the Grade-1 Maker Mark Mile, so there is no doubt that she is one of the top turf females in the nation. Miss Temple City was second to Lady Eli in last year’s Grade-3 Appalachian at Keeneland by 2½ lengths in their one previous clash.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was waiting to bring back Sentiero Italia after her fourth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf to end 2015. He found a soft landing spot for her to blow the hinges off her competition on Saratoga opening day in allowance company at this 1 & 1/16 mile distance. The McLaughlin team has always thought highly of their Godolphin owned trainee that has been stabled a the Greentree Training Center since the beginning of the spring. Sentiero Italia was fourth in the aforementioned 2015 Belmont Oaks to Lady Eli by 3 ½ lengths in their one prior meeting.

After her allowance win at Belmont in May, Onus for Hall-of-Fame trainer Shug McGaughey was getting super hype. Her last two starts have been disappointing and she’ll look to bounce back here.

Also entered are Excilly (second start in the U.S. after 7th in U.S. debut at Saratoga in the non-graded De La Rose), Strike Charmer (winner of the Grade-3 Beaugay in May and fifth last out in the Diana for trainer Mark Henig), and Sweet Acclaim (recent non-graded stakes winner at Ellis Park for trainer Brad Cox).

BOTTOM LINE: We may see a story book ending to the Lady Eli comeback in the Saratoga winners’ circle on Saturday, but it won’t be easy. Miss Temple City and Sentiero Italia are two world-class fillies. For multi-race wagers, a good plan is to use these three only, since one of them is the most likely winner.

Sat., Aug. 27, Grade-1 Personal Ensign, $750,000 purse, Fillies & Mares 3 years old & up, 1 & 1/8 miles (Dirt)

Outside of Beholder, Stellar Wind and Songbird, the top routing dirt fillies and mares in the nation will line up in a star-studded Personal Ensign, which carries a “Win and You’re In” berth into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

The Personal Ensign will be headlined by the fourth match-up between Curalina and I’m A Chatterbox. In their first match-up in last year’s Coaching Club America Oaks (CCA Oaks) at Saratoga, a controversial bumping incident in late stretch resulted in a disqualification to I’m A Chatterbox putting Curalina up as a Grade-1 winner. Both have been impressive at times this year after running in the Alabama and Breeders’ Cup Distaff to end last year.

Curalina’s slop triumph at Saratoga on July 31 in the Grade-3 Shuvee was a tour-de-force drawing off by 9¼ lengths. With two wins at the track in four lifetime starts, Curalina should be the top choice in the wagering for trainer Todd Pletcher. A line can be drawn through her poor fourth in the Grade-1 Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes day, since she got caught behind cheap speed that day and just didn’t seem to take to the track.

I’m A Chatterbox for trainer Larry Jones comes in off another controversial race where she took out three horses to her inside in the Grade-1 Delaware Handicap out of the gate. She was much the best in the race and was therefore kept up as the winner, but some of her questionable antics make her a tough filly to back.

McLaughlin holds a strong hand on Travers Day in many of the top races and will bring Cavorting here off two impressive wins at Belmont in the Grade-2 Ruffian and Grade-1 Ogden Phipps last out. Cavorting has dominated at Saratoga in her career winning the Grade-2 Adirondack in 2014 and both the Grade-1 Test and Grade-2 Prioress last year. Those five races have something in common, though. They were all around one turn. The 1 & 1/8 mile distance isn’t the concern for Cavorting, but her experience and success around two-turns is the main question here. Cavorting should get back the services of jockey Javier Castellano here, so it is certain that he’ll put her in a good spot on both turns.

Trainer Dallas Stewart said that Forever Unbridled got a bad trip in the Ogden Phipps and still was able to place second behind Cavorting. She has never run at Saratoga, but came into the Ogden Phipps off three straight Graded Stakes wins. Of note, her sister Unbridled Forever won the Ballerina on Travers Day last year.

Paid Up Subscriber looked like a rising star in the division coming into the Delaware Handicap and may have been affected by the start, but still placed second. She is definitely flying under the radar for trainer Al Stall coming into the Personal Ensign. After winning the Grade-2 Fleur De Lis at Churchill, Stall said that the target race was this Personal Ensign try, so this has always been the team’s main goal.

BOTTOM LINE: A short but extremely competitive field makes this one that you may need to go “skinny” in multi-race wagers. If you are against Cavorting due to her lack of two-turn experience, then that may be a key angle to take and focus on leaning heavy on Curalina and Forever Unbridled in multi-race wagers.

Sat., Aug. 27, Grade-1 Ballerina, $500,000 purse, Fillies &Mares 3 years old &up, 7 Furlongs (Dirt)

If the day can’t get any bigger, the Ballerina is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. If you’re talking Breeders’ Cup, then a perfect starting point is to first discuss last year’s Filly and Mare sprint winner, Wavell Avenue. It’s been a tumultuous year for Chad Brown’s Wavell Avenue since her Breeders’ Cup victory, but she bounced back on the Saratoga main track with a strong closing win in the non-graded Shine Again to get her confidence back on August 3. She was not disgraced in any of her previous three races this year running behind top fillies and mares in this group, so if she gets a hot pace in the Ballerina, she’s one to be watching late.

That hot pace may be ensured by super three-year old filly Carina Mia, but she’ll have to get or press the lead out of the 9 post. After testing the undefeated Songbird like no other horse in her career in this year’s CCA Oaks, Carina Mia will cut back to what she does best in one-turn sprinting. After getting a delayed start to the year due to an equine herpes quarantine at Payson Park, her Grade-2 Eight Belles win in dominant fashion and Grade-1 Acorn triumph over top fillies Off The Tracks, Cathryn Sophia and Go Maggie Go shows how dominant she can be around one-turn. Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott has her working out great on the Oklahoma training track after her CCA Oaks, so even though she’s stepping up against elders for the first time, she may just be good enough to win here.

Sheer Drama won the Personal Ensign last year on Travers Day and also gets a cut-back here from a poor performance in the Personal Ensign last out, where she finished fifth. Her Grade-1 Madison win at Keeneland at this 7-furlong distance to start the season was one of the best races of the year so far as she went toe-to-toe with Stopchargingmaria in the stretch. That duel took a lot out of both and neither has performed as well since. As a six-year old, she may be getting a “little long in the tooth” and the cut-back may do the trick.

Two recent NYRA stakes winners on the rise to watch in here are By the Moon (impressive winner of the Grade-3 Bed of Roses for trainer Michelle Nevin at this distance at Belmont to end June over Wavell Avenue) and Haveyougoneaway (Grade-2 Honorable Miss winner to start the meet on Saratoga opening weekend for trainer Tom Morley).

A packed Ballerina field includes Birdatthewire (has disappointed this year against elders after winning the Grade-1 La Brea to end 2015 against three-year olds), Linda Linda (third in the Shine Again behind Wavell Avenue), Paulassilverlining (tough knocking sprinter who lost by a neck in Honorable Miss after winning two Grade-3 stakes on the NYRA circuit), Sarah Sis (fifth in the Honorable Miss), Spelling Again (winner of the Grade-2 Princess Rooney to start July at Gulfstream).

BOTTOM LINE: With a sizable field of 10, just the chaos of the break should ensure a fast pace in here. Based on pure gate speed, it’s tough to see these older horses out-breaking Carina Mia, but she will need to clear from the 9 post. If Carina Mia does clear, she may be a tough one to track down late. Wavell Avenue has had her ups-and-downs this year, but she is a mare that must be used, based on the belief that the Saratoga meet’s leading trainer Chad Brown will have her ready to be closing late and that her back-class will rise to the occasion here.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for a SPECIAL LIVE BLOG on Travers Day from the track and coverage of the whole Saratoga meet.

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