08/25/2011 2:01PM

Saratoga: Desert Sage should like pace in Ballston Spa


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. − As he watched his filly Desert Sage contest the early pace of the Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Parx Racing last month, trainer Chad Brown knew he was in trouble.

A filly who in her three previous races had been covered up before unleashing a powerful kick was now out of her routine. So it was no surprise when she finished fourth as the 2-1 favorite.

Saturday, when Desert Sage returns in the Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga, Brown expects her to revert back to the running style that helped produce two allowance victories at Gulfstream and a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Gallorette at Pimlico.

“Her last race to me is a throw-out,” Brown said. “She got a terrible, terrible trip. The jock had her out of cover, she was getting out, rank. We’re going to try to cover up and go back to what was working for us.”

Desert Sage has been keeping good company in the morning, breezing several times with Stacelita before that horse went on to win the Grade 1 Beverly D two weeks ago at Arlington.

The Ballston Spa, run at 1 1/16 miles over Saratoga’s Mellon Turf Course, may be the most contentious of the five graded stakes carded here Saturday. It is not easy to dismiss any of the nine fillies and mares entered.

The closers in the field should have an honest pace to run at, with Trix in the City, who came out of a fifth-place finish in the Penny to win the De La Rose here, and Matchmaker winner Romacaca in the field.

While Desert Sage couldn’t get covered up in the Penny, Daveron could. She rated beautifully along the inside under Eddie Castro, before being tipping out for the stretch and coming with a strong closing kick. It was Daveron’s second straight stakes win and third from her last four starts.

“I was really impressed with her last race,” said Graham Motion, Daveron’s trainer. “It was probably her best race ever. This is a big step up, but she’s done really well since the race. She definitely benefitted from having a lot of time between races. She’s a light filly, but she’s hard on herself.”

Aviate won the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on Derby Day before catching less than firm ground when sixth in the Just a Game and fifth in the Diana, both Grade 1 races. Bill Mott, who trains Aviate for Juddmonte Farms, said he likes the drop in class and the cutback in distance from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16 miles.

“I like that part,” Mott said. “It gives her a chance to produce a bigger run.”

Tapitsfly, who won the P.G. Johnson over this course as a 2-year-old, comes off a second-place finish in the De La Rose, in which she chased a loose-on-the-lead Trix in the City. Romacaca has won five consecutive races, including the Grade 3 Matchmaker at Monmouth.

Trainer Roger Attfield entered Miss Keller, third in last year’s Ballston Spa, and Mekong Melody, fourth in the Diana in the Ballston Spa.

Strike the Bell, last year’s Noble Damsel winner who is winless in four starts this year, completes the field.


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