09/07/2007 11:00PM

Ginger Punch win raises big question

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Ginger Punch posted a third straight stakes victory Saturday in the $285,000 Ruffian Handicap for fillies and mares at Belmont Park.

The consistent 4-year-old won her second straight Grade 1 to emerge as a leader in the division. However, she is not eligible to the Breeders' Cup and would require a $180,000 supplement to run in the Distaff.

Each win makes an increasingly compelling argument for the Stronach Stables to pony up the fee.

Ginger Punch ($3.50) ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.25, breaking the stakes record of 1:40.35 set by Riboletta in 2000. This was 17th time in the 32-year history of the Ruffian that it was run at this distance.

Ginger Punch and jockey Rafael Bejarano stalked the pace set by Take D' Tour and took charge at the top of the top stretch as the four horses in the race were all in contention turning for home.

Miss Shop made a late run to get second, a half-length behind the winner. Teammate finished third another half-length back, giving trainer Allen Jerkens a two-three finish in the race. Take D' Tour, the 8-5 second choice, was the trailer.

Ginger Punch blossomed this year following off-season laser surgery to remove growths in her throat that blocked her air flow.

The victory in the Ruffian posed questions - the good kind - for trainer Bobby Frankel. The Breeders' Cup is not a certainty so the Grade 1, $600,000 Beldame here on Sept. 30 becomes an option.

"She could come back here in three weeks," Frankel said. "Six-hundred thousand dollars for the Beldame is nothing to sneeze at. If you run her three to four weeks apart, she does everything right."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, little went right for Take D' Tour, brave winner by a neck over Ginger Punch last time out in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap on June 16.

Trainer David Fawkes hoped the rest would freshen the mare heading to the Breeders' Cup.

It didn't work according to plan, starting with a poor break.

"I don't know what they were doing in the gate," Fawkes said. "The rider was off her for a second. I don't know what happened. She's done that before and run well. She was just kind of flat today."

After grabbing the lead under Eibar Coa, Take D' Tour seemed comfortable on the lead but lacked her characteristic fight in the lane.

"We'll talk about it and make a decision," Fawkes said. "A lot of horses have run worse than her going into the Breeders' Cup."