08/28/2005 12:00AM

Happy Ticket triumphs in Ballerina

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Happy Ticket rolls to a 5 1/2 length victory in the Grade 1, $250,000 Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga on Sunday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Happy Ticket, the Louisiana-bred sensation, proved she was ready for the big stage Sunday by rolling to a 5 1/2 length victory in the Grade 1, $250,000 before a crowd of 15,358 at soggy Saratoga.

It was the 10th victory in 11 career starts for Happy Ticket, whose first eight career victories came at Louisiana tracks. Happy Ticket won the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders' Cup at Arlington before finishing a troubled second behind Madcap Escapade in the Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder last month.

Sunday, Happy Ticket had no trouble against a contentious field nor did she have any trouble handling the Saratoga mud. After settling into fourth position early under John Velazquez, Happy Ticket swung wide of Forest Music and Molto Vita turning for home.

Molto Vita had the lead in mid-stretch, but Velazquez persevered on Happy Ticket and she drew clear late. Pleasant Home rallied for second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Molto Vita. Following Molto Vita, the order of finish was Bank Audit, Vision of Beauty, Forest Music and My Trusty Cat.

Happy Ticket, a daughter of Anet owned and bred by Stewart Madison, covered seven furlongs in 1:24.53 and returned $6 as the favorite.

"She was for real before she run in this race and I hope it proved to a lot of New Yorkers especially one guy who said she didn't belong in the race,'' said trainer Andrew Leggio Jr., who at age 71 captured his first Grade 1 victory.

Following Molto Vita, the order of finish was Bank Audit, Vision of Beauty, Forest Music and My Trusty Cat.

Leggio explained that Happy Ticket had a tendency to drift out in her earlier races so he equipped Happy Ticket with a severe bit that includes a piece of metal underneath her jaw. He instructed Velazquez not to take a hold of Happy Ticket coming out of the gate.

"He said `You might want to give a lot of rein from the gate, so she'll break with a free rein and a free mouth and that was it,'' Velazquez said. "She broke perfect. I was where I wanted to be on the backside, I put her to the outside and I just came strolling along around the three-eighths pole and she was doing it well. I couldn't have asked for a better trip.''

The victory capped a stellar three-day period for Velazquez, who won Saturday's Grade 1 Travers and Friday's Grade 2 Spinaway. He now has 34 wins, three less than Edgar Prado with seven days left in the meet.

Leggio hails from New Orleans where his family was evacuating to Shreveport, La., in anticipation of Hurricane Kristina.

"All my kids got in their cars and they're all heading to Shreveport right now, about 10 of them,'' Leggio said. "So that's where I'm at; worrying about the kids right now.''

* One race before the Ballerina, Velazquez found a hole in deep stretch and get Insan Mala ($8.70) past Connie Belle to win the $68,000 Tenski Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 1-4 lengths. It was another 1 1-2 lengths back to favored Who's Cozy in third.

Insan Mala, owned by Stonerside Stables and trained by Christophe Clement, covered 1 1-16 miles in 1:43.32 over a good Mellon Turf Course.