08/22/2006 11:00PM

Fleet Indian's speed, durability hard to beat

Balletto may not get the contested pace she needs to set up her closing kick in the Personal Ensign.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Before trainers Todd Pletcher and Tom Albertrani face off in Saturday's Grade 1 Travers with Bluegrass Cat and Bernardini, the two horsemen will do battle in Friday's Grade 1 Personal Ensign when Pletcher sends out Fleet Indian against the Albertrani-trained Balletto.

Only three other fillies and mares were entered in the $400,000 Personal Ensign, run at 1 1/4 miles over Saratoga's main track. The Personal Ensign tops a 10-race card that begins at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Fleet Indian, a New York-bred daughter of Indian Charlie, has been the surprise of the older female division this year. After having been purchased by Paul Saylor out of the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, Fleet Indian has reeled off four consecutive stakes wins, including a 5 1/2-length romp in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap at this 1 1/4-mile distance.

"She had a good record before we got her,'' said Pletcher. "We knew she was a nice filly before we got her, we didn't necessarily project she was going to win a $1 million race and reel off four in a row.''

The key to Fleet Indian's success, Pletcher reasons, is her endurance. She has won six consecutive races, five at nine furlongs or farther.

"She's got that quality where she can go on the same pace for a long distance of ground,'' Pletcher said. "Twenty four [seconds for a quarter], 48, 1:12, that's her game, so we tried to focus on that, tried to give her plenty of time between races. This was a schedule that was laid out a while back.''

Fleet Indian, who will break from post 5 under Jose Santos, will once again be the main speed in the field. That could be compromising to Balletto, who does her best running from off the pace.

Balletto, a Grade 1-winning 2-year-old of 2004, missed her entire 3-year-old season due to intestinal surgery, but returned to race as a 4-year-old. She ran only fair in a trio of one-turn races, but really blossomed when sent out around two turns in last month's Go for Wand, in which she was beaten a nose by Spun Sugar, also trained by Pletcher.

"The Go for Wand and the Personal Ensign were the two main races we were focusing on for her this year, knowing the [one-turn] races down at Belmont - the Shuvee and the Ogden Phipps - wouldn't suit her running style,'' Albertrani said. "The two turns will definitely suit her more, I believe. She ran a terrific race last time just to be nosed out there. I'm hoping she comes back and puts in the same effort.''

Balletto breaks from the rail under Javier Castellano.

Yolanda B. Too, who has won 2 of 3 starts this year, figures to be the one closest to Fleet Indian in the early stages of the Personal Ensign. Her trainer, Rick Violette, said he is not looking to get in a duel with Fleet Indian and set it up for Balletto, Soul Search, or India Halo.

"I don't think anybody can beat [Fleet Indian], but you're not supposed to not go in a race because of one horse,'' said Violette, who was thinking of running Yolanda B. Too in Sunday's Grade 1 Ballerina. "We'll probably track her without committing suicide. We're not in there to set it up for anybody. If Todd's filly isn't up to her 'A' game we'll see what happens.''

In last year's Personal Ensign, trainer Neil Howard sent out Shadow Cast to a 14-1 upset of the Pletcher-trained Ashado, who was the 2-5 favorite. Friday, Howard will send out the less-accomplished Soul Search, who has yet to win a stakes.

"Soul Search is a very nice filly, very dependent on pace and longer distances, and if it wasn't a mile and a quarter we probably wouldn't be having this conversation,'' Howard said.

India Halo was good enough to win the Ladies Handicap at 1 1/4 miles last December, albeit against much softer company.

The field

Personal Ensign Stakes
Purse: $400,000; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

1 BallettoJ. Castellano 116 3-1
2Yolanda B. Too G. Gomez1164-1
3Soul Search J. Velazquez11610-1
4India Halo J. Espinoza11612-1
5Fleet Indian J. Santos1183-5

* Odds by Art Gropper