SARATOGA SPRINGS — A couple of big-name fillies are at the beginning and end of a spectacular Travers undercard on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Songbird, a two-time champion here last year in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama, highlights the five-horse Grade I, $700,000 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares, which will be the sixth race and the first stakes race of the day. Lady Eli, this year’s Diana winner and a multiple Grade I winner, leads a field of six in the Grade II, $400,000 Ballston Spa in the 12th race, right after the Travers.
Four of the six graded stakes on the card are “Win and You’re In” for certain Breeders’ Cup races: The Personal Ensign (for the Distaff), Ballerina (Filly and Mare Sprint), Forego (Sprint) and Sword Dancer (Turf).
Songbird has won 13 of her 14 career starts, with a second by a nose to Beholder in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff being her only defeat. This year she didn’t race until June, but she’s won two straight Grade I’s since: the Ogden Phipps and Delaware Handicap.
“I like the way she is right now,” Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. “She’s ready to run. According to what we’re looking at and according to what her rider says, we think she’s even better than she was last year.”
Her main competition would appear to come from Forever Unbridled, who was third in last year’s Distaff and is coming off a win in the Grade II Fleur de Lis.
Songbird and Forever Unbridled have already qualified for the Distaff.
Ballerina: Curlin’s Approval has already qualified for the Filly and Mare Sprint as a result of her win in the Princess Rooney Handicap on July 1 at Gulfstream Park. She should get a challenge from Paulassilverlining, who won the Grade II Honorable Miss here on July 26.
Paulassilverlining is 3 for 3 since Chad Brown took over her training. She has won three graded stakes, each by a neck. Michelle Nevin, who used to train her, enters By the Moon, a $1.2 million career earner who was third in the Honorable Miss last time out.
Allen Jerkens (formerly King’s Bishop): On paper, there are some heavy-duty sprinters matched against some horses cutting back in distance. Leading the morning line at 2-1 is the Bob Baffert-trained American Anthem, who ran a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the Grade II Woody Stephens by 3 1/4 lengths on Belmont Stakes Day.
Undefeated Coal Front tries to go 4 for 4 this year while trying 7 furlongs for the first time. The son of Stay Thirsty is coming off a 1 1/2-length score in the Grade II Amsterdam. Cutting back is Practical Joke, who won the Hopeful here last year and the 1-mile Dwyer at Belmont, but who has fared better around one turn than two.
Forego: New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits already has a spot in the Sprint, but he’ll try to add to his resume. He impressively won the Dubai Golden Shaheen while carrying 132 pounds in March, and came back to post a 106 speed figure in winning the Grade II Belmont Sprint in July.
One to watch is Drefong, last year’s King’s Bishop winner. Winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, he notoriously dumped jockey Mike Smith in the Grade I Bing Crosby on July 29.
Sword Dancer: Hunter O’Riley, Bigger Picture and Sadler’s Joy, the 1-2-3 finishers of the Grade II Bowling Green here July 29, meet in this field of seven. An interesting entry is Idaho, making his first North American start for trainer Aidan O’Brien. The 4-year-old colt won the Group II Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot in June and followed that with a third in the Group I King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Ballston Spa: Lady Eli originally wasn’t going to run here, but the 5-year-old mare has been training lights-out since then, causing Brown to change his mind and run her. Brown also has Roca Rojo and Antonoe entered.