SARATOGA SPRINGS — The “Graveyard of Champions” lived up to its name Saturday as Songbird, previously 13 for 14 in her career, was upset in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga Race Course.
Joel Rosario rode Forever Unbridled wide in the stretch to catch Songbird and win the $700,000 race by a neck.
Third in last year’s Personal Ensign, Forever Unbridled finished the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1 minute, 49.16 seconds. The 2-1 second choice behind 2-5 Songbird, Forever Unbridled passed the $2 million mark in career earnings with the victory.
“I was a little concerned about being wide like that, but maybe (Rosario) thinks that’s the best part of the track,” winning trainer Dallas Stewart said. “Thank God, she got there first. Like Pat Day said, ‘they pay off at the wire.’ ”
As expected in just a four-horse field without much pace, Songbird went to the lead. She ran a quarter-mile in 24.14 seconds, then sped things up for a 47.91 half mile. Coming around the quarter-pole entering the stretch, it looked like Songbird would have enough to hang on and improve to 3 for 3 at the Spa, but Rosario and Forever Unbridled used every inch of space that was left.
“I decided to stay away from Songbird because I was moving very well today, so I stayed away a little bit and let her run,” Rosario said.
“I was hoping like everyone else,” Stewart said of the finish. “You never know in a horse race, trying to beat a champion. It wasn’t easy, (Songbird) came back on her, it looked like to me.”
The Saratoga crowd still cheered Songbird after she was unsaddled and walked back to the barn.
“I wish they would’ve come right next to me because I think she would’ve picked it up, maybe held them off,” Songbird jockey Mike Smith said. “In saying that I ran my race, when I asked her heading for home, she accelerated. She’s not supposed to get run down, and he ran me down.”
Songbird owner Rick Porter said he felt frustrated and wasn’t sure that his filly is 100 percent healthy, and will get her checked out as soon as he can.
Ballerina: By the Moon has never finished out of the money at Saratoga, and she delivered another gem. Refusing to let Chester and Mary Broman’s Highway Star pass in the stretch, the 5-year-old mare won by a head and punched her ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Rajiv Maragh rode the winner — now 2-2-2 in six Saratoga starts — and took her to the lead of the 7-furlong race, but was in no hurry, covering a half-mile in 47.81.
It was the third time Maragh has won the Ballerina.
“My filly has been better off stalking a horse in the past, but we thought that if we were going to get an easy lead, we shouldn’t give that up,” Maragh said.
Allen Jerkens: The question every year in this race is does a true sprinter win it, or a horse cutting back in distance? Chalk one up for the latter, as Practical Joke improved to 3 for 3 at Saratoga with a 1 ¼-length win over pace setter Takaful in the Grade I, $500,000 sprint at 7 furlongs.
It was Practical Joke’s third race in seven weeks, but winning trainer Chad Brown called him “our iron horse.
“To cut back all the way to seven-eighths off a hard race in the Haskell, a remarkable performance,” Brown said.
Practical Joke is now 5 for 5 in one-turn races. The winning time was a respectable 1:21.96.
Forego: Drefong has made Saratoga his playground, improving to 2 for 2 with his 4-length score in the Forego.
Ridden by Smith, the 4-year-old led the field of 10 from gate to wire in 1:21.12, just .72 off the 7-furlong main-track record. The victory also qualified Drefong for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Smith’s only other win in the Forego came aboard Birdonthewire in 1993.
Awesome Slew took second, a half-length ahead of long shot Tom’s Ready. Mind Your Biscuits, already the fifth-highest-earning New York-bred, failed to fire and finished sixth.
Sword Dancer: Sadler’s Joy broke his maiden at the Spa one year and four days prior to this, his biggest victory yet. That, too, came at a mile and a half.
With the win, the 4-year-old colt qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The final time of 2:24.58 was the fourth-fastest of 37 runnings at the current distance.
Sadler’s Joy was last coming into the stretch, but Julien Leparoux took the 4-year-old colt widest of all and saved his best run for just when he needed it, winning over Money Multiplier by a half-length.
Ballston Spa: The cheer after track announcer said, “Returning to the winner’s circle is Lady Eli” said it all.
The now-5-year-old mare who famously overcame a 13-month absence from racing due to laminitis improved her career record to 10 wins and three seconds from 13 starts with a 1 1/2-length win over Dickinson in the Grade II race over the Mellon Turf Course.
“I’m so glad we decided to bring her here today, for a lot of reasons.” said winning trainer Chad Brown, who’s won this race three times. “We got a good race into her again, and most important, all the fans at Saratoga and beyond got to see her race here one more time.”