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2023 Ballerina Handicap Preview & FREE Picks | Echo Zulu Aims At 4th Saratoga Win In Filly & Mare Sprint Prep
Echo Zulu (Gary Johnson/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Ballerina Handicap Preview & FREE Picks | Echo Zulu Aims At 4th Saratoga Win In Filly & Mare Sprint Prep

Jared previews the 2023 Ballerina Stakes (G1) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots from this “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

The 2021 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Echo Zulu takes aim at her 4th win in as many starts over the local course, but will the last-out Honorable Miss Handicap (G2) winner stay perfect at The Spa? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

Winchell Thoroughbreds and L and N Racing’s Echo Zulu puts her unbeaten 4-year-old campaign and lifetime perfect record at the Spa on the line in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina Handicap, a seven-furlong main track sprint for fillies and mares, at Saratoga Race Course.

The Ballerina is slated as Race 10 on Saturday’s lucrative 13-race program, which is headlined by the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers in Race 12. First post is 11:40 a.m. Eastern.   

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Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Echo Zulu [post 6, Florent Geroux, 123 pounds] enters from an impressive 7 1/4-length score in the six-furlong Grade 2, Honorable Miss on July 26 here, where she set the pace and opened up a five-length advantage at the stretch call before being geared down to the finish in a final time of 1:08.76. The performance earned a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure and was her seventh graded victory.

Asmussen said the talented bay, whose only off-the-board effort came in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, is at her best around one turn.

“That’s who she is,” said Asmussen of the lofty speed figure garnered in the Honorable Miss. “We chased the Oaks with her a little bit last year, but when you back her up, she’s absolutely brilliant.”

From the first crop of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, Echo Zulu won her racing debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs in July 2021 at the Spa en route to three consecutive Grade 1 victories that year in Saratoga’s Spinaway, Belmont’s Frizette, and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar to earn year-end honors as Champion 2-Year-Old Filly.

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Echo Zulu started her sophomore season right where she left off, winning the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks by a nose before her first defeat in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. She cut back to seven furlongs in September to win the Grade 3 Dogwood at Churchill Downs, before a second at that distance in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland.

A win in the Ballerina punches a “Win and You’re In” ticket to this year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, contested in November at Santa Anita.

“You concentrate on what you have control over. We love how Echo Zulu is doing and feel great about her going into the Ballerina,” Asmussen said.

Bred in Kentucky by Betz/J. Betz/Burns/CHNNHK/Magers/CoCo Equine/Ramsby, Echo Zulu was a $300,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She holds a record of 10-8-1-0 with over $2.3 million in earnings.

Asmussen could also be represented by Winchell Thoroughbreds’ multiple graded stakes-winning Kentucky homebred Wicked Halo [post 5, Tyler Gaffalione. 123 pounds] as she looks to protect a perfect 2-for-2 record at the Spa.

The 4-year-old Gun Runner grey, who is cross-entered in Friday’s Misty Bennett Pink Ribbon at Charles Town, captured the Grade 2 Adirondack here in August 2021 and added the Grade 2 Prioress to her ledger last summer. She finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November and is 4-2-2-0 this season, taking the Matron at Oaklawn Park and the Twin Bridges last out on July 23 at Ellis Park.

Wicked Halo is out of the Tapit mare Just Wicked, who won the 2015 Grade 2 Adirondack for these connections.

Team Hanley and First Row Partners’ Goodnight Olive [post 7, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 124 pounds], trained by meet leading conditioner Chad Brown, won last year’s Ballerina before taking the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland with a 2 1/2-length score over Echo Zulu to secure honors as Champion Female Sprinter.

“It’s a very strong division. Echo Zulu will be a tough horse to tackle. But our horse is fresh and doing well at the moment. I’m optimistic that she’ll run well,” said Brown.

After the Championship coup, Brown gave Goodnight Olive some time off before her 5-year-old debut in April when she won the Grade 1 Madison going seven furlongs at Keeneland.

In the Ghostzapper mare’s next outing, she ran third in the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff in May at Churchill Downs, two lengths behind returning rival Matareya – Goodnight Olive’s first defeat since her March 2021 debut at Gulfstream Park and only loss at seven furlongs.

Goodnight Olive rebounded nicely with a neck score last out on June 17 at Belmont in the Grade 2 Bed o’ Roses, rallying to the lead late past Wicked Halo.

Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Goodnight Olive was a $170,000 purchase at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale. She has banked in excess of $1.5 million through a ledger of 10-8-1-1- also is a perfect 2-for-2 at the Spa.

Godolphin’s dual Grade 1-winner Matareya [post 2, Flavien Prat, 122 pounds], trained by Brad Cox, had a four-race win streak snapped in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Test last August, but after a layoff and game second in the Matron in March at Oaklawn Park, she found herself back in the winner’s circle for the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff.

The 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile bay seeks a third Grade 1 victory, having also won the Acorn in June of last year at Belmont, where she cruised to a 6 1/4-length victory going a one-turn mile despite a bobble at the start.

Matareya boasts a 12-6-3-2 record with earnings in excess of $1.5 million. She was bred in Kentucky by Godolphin and is out of the graded-stakes winning Bernardini mare Innovative Idea.

Godolphin’s Kentucky dual graded stakes-winning homebred Caramel Swirl [post 8, Junior Alvarado, 121 pounds] finished third last out in the Bed o’ Roses for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

The 5-year-old Union Rags bay made the grade with a head score in the Grade 2 Raven Run in October 23 and two starts later finished second to Goodnight Olive in last year’s Ballerina.

Caramel Swirl rallied from sixth to win the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 3 Vagrancy in May at Belmont Park, besting returning rival Dr B by 2 1/2-lengths.

Cash is King and LC Racing will send out Dr B [post 4, Luis Saez, 118 pounds], trained by Butch Reid Jr., who last finished second to Echo Zulu in the Honorable Miss. Prior to that effort, she ran fourth, 13 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Goodnight Olive in the Bed o’ Roses.

“The Honorable Miss was a real good race. We had one hiccup at Belmont where she was sulky in the paddock,” said Reid. “We gave her time off over the winter and this was the spot we were thinking of when we gave her that time off.”

Dr B was freshened following a 4 1/4-length win in the Grade 3 Go for Wand in December at Aqueduct to close her 4-year-old campaign, the grade-making performance earned a lifetime high 103 Beyer Speed Figure.

Mark Anderson’s New York-bred graded-stakes placed Sterling Silver [post 1, Javier Castellano, 116 pounds] finished ninth in her last try at the top flight in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at odds of 78-1.

Trained by Tom Albertrani, Sterling Silver has returned with a strong 4-year-old season, last out winning a seven-furlong optional claiming event last out on July 29 at Saratoga to add to a pair of state-bred stakes placing at Belmont.

“She’s a year older now. She’s a little stronger this year,” Albertrani said. “It’s still a tough race and another step up for her, but she deserves a shot and we’ll hope for the best.”

Bred in New York by Mallory Mort and Karen Mort, Sterling Silver was a $13,000 purchase at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase. She has far exceeded that price, sporting a 15-5-2-3 record and $512,988 in purse earnings with key wins in Belmont’s Bouwerie last year and Aqueduct’s Franklin Square as a 2-year-old.

Rounding out the field is graded-stakes winner Maryquitecontrary [post 3, Luca Panici, 120 pounds] for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey.

The 4-year-old First Dude bay captured the Grade 2 Inside Information in January at Gulfstream Park for her former conditioner Joseph Catanese, III.

She finished a close second to Goodnight OIive in the Madison at first asking for McGaughey and arrives from a distant fourth after a bobbled start in the Honorable Miss.