07/26/2008 12:00AM

Ginger Punch shows why she's a champion


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - That was brutal!

Trainer Bobby Frankel wasn't referring to the sudden showers and bolts of lightning that hovered over the track as the field left the starting gate for Saturday's $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga. He was talking about the nightmarish trip his Ginger Punch endured before asserting her class and superiority to post a nerve-wracking 1 1/4-length victory over Copper State in the Grade 1 Go for Wand.

Not that she needed the incentive, but the Go for Wand is a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, formerly known as the Distaff, a race Ginger Punch won to cap off her championship season in 2007.

After acting up briefly in the gate just prior to the start, Ginger Punch broke on her toes and on the lead but was reined in and taken off the pace by jockey Rafael Bejarano before the field entered the clubhouse turn. Ginger Punch ultimately settled back in third behind the pacesetting Moon Catcher, who set leisurely fractions of 24.04 seconds, 49.01, and 1:14.04 for the opening six furlongs.

The slow pace helped bunch the field with Ginger Punch locked in behind the leaders leaving the backstretch and around the second turn. Bejarano eased her out looking for clearance midway on the bend but remained locked in with no place to go as the field entered the stretch. Ginger Punch was finally able to find a small seam between the tiring Moon Catcher and Copper State nearing the eighth pole, and pulled away with authority once finally in the clear.

Frankel said that Bejarano "panicked a little looking for a hole at the top of the stretch and if she wasn't a champion she wouldn't have been able to overcome a trip like that."

Ginger Punch ($2.40) became the first horse to win back-to-back editions of the Go for Wand. She registered an easy six-length win a year ago.

Frankel, who trains Ginger Punch for owner Frank Stronach, said she would make her next start in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park on Sept. 27. Ginger Punch finished third as the even-money favorite in the 2007 Beldame.