08/26/2010 3:50PM

Dirt remains a question for Informed Decision in Ballerina

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. − Informed Decision is generally thought of as a synthetic-track freak, but trainer Jonathan Sheppard is confident his champion mare can also handle conventional dirt well enough to win the $250,000 Ballerina, one of three Grade 1 races on Saturday’s Travers day program at Saratoga.

Informed Decision capped her championship campaign last year with a 1 1/4-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita. The win was the last of her six victories last season, and all but one of the wins came over artificial racetracks. Her lone defeat came in the Ballerina, in which she finished a tiring third after chasing the pace over a sloppy track.

Informed Decision brings a two-race winning streak into this year’s Ballerina, and both of the wins came over synthetic surfaces. She finished third in her only try on conventional dirt this year, when she again caught a sloppy track in defense of her title in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs.

“She’s definitely better on synthetics, but she’s also better than most on dirt, as well,” said Sheppard, who trains Informed Decision for his principal client, Augustin Stables. “In fact, I can’t remember the last time she got to run over a dry dirt track. She had a brilliant work here before the Ballerina last summer, but it poured all morning, and the racetrack was a sea of slop. The same thing happened to her this spring at Churchill Downs.”

Even though Informed Decision is the reigning division leader, Sheppard said he isn’t taking victory for granted.

“It’s a solid field, and there will be no room for mistakes,” he said.

Julien Leparoux will ride.

Informed Decision is one of only two Grade 1 winners in the Ballerina lineup, along with Jessica is Back, who won her first Grade 1 in Calder’s Princess Rooney Handicap on July 10. Jessica is Back will be joined by her uncoupled stablemate, First Passage, who ran perhaps the best race of her career here last summer, when she was a troubled fourth in the Grade 1 Test.

The Ballerina will mark the Grade 1 debut for Qualia, who has been brought along patiently by trainer Robert Ribaudo with this race in mind. Qualia has won four times and has never been worse than second in six career starts. She made her stakes debut last month in Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses Handicap, missing by a head to Rightly So after chasing the winner throughout.

Qualia blew out a half-mile in a sharp 46.67 seconds here Tuesday.

“We’ve been conservative with her all along, and now it’s time to try a Grade 1,” Ribaudo said. “Informed Decision is the best filly sprinter in the country, but she may be a little more vulnerable on dirt, and if we’re going to meet her, this is where we want it to be.”

Rightly So led throughout before outlasting Qualia to win the Bed o’ Roses. It was her first victory this year; she was 5 of 6 last year at 3.

Rightly So also blew out very quickly for the race Tuesday, zipping a half-mile in 46 seconds over the Oklahoma training track.

Warbling could not overcome a slow start when third in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss here three weeks earlier.

Pretty Prolific, runner-up in the Humana Distaff, and Devil by Design complete the field.