08/25/2011 1:57PM

Saratoga: Sassy Image sharp for Ballerina Stakes


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – As well as Dale Romans believes Shackleford is doing at Saratoga in preparation for the Travers Stakes, the trainer only wishes his 3-year-old was training as well as Sassy Image is leading up to Saturday’s Grade 1, $250,000 Ballerina Stakes.

“She trains good on everything,” Romans said. “But she’s training as good right now as I’ve ever had a horse train. Period.”

If the morning translates to the afternoon, Sassy Image figures hard to beat in the Ballerina, a seven-furlong race that assures the winner a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 as part of the Win and You’re In initiative that this year pays all entry fees.

Sassy Image just happens to be in career form, with three consecutive graded stakes victories, including an improbable neck victory in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney at Calder. Sassy Image was more than 15 lengths off the early pace and was last until midstretch before getting up over Musical Romance, who came back to win an overnight stakes at Calder.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

“She wasn’t handling the racetrack at Calder, which is why she got so far behind,” Romans said. “She doesn’t have to be way back.”

Sassy Image, who will be ridden by Robby Albarado, will break from the outside post in the seven-horse field and should find ample pace to run at with Hilda’s Passion, Tar Heel Mom, and Tamarind Hall in the field.

Hilda’s Passion, beaten three lengths by Sassy Image in the Humana Distaff at Churchill, won the Grade 2 Vagrancy impressively before finishing sixth as the 1-4 favorite in the Bed o’ Roses at Belmont in July. Trainer Todd Pletcher claims the Belmont track was a little peculiar that day and his filly simply didn’t fire. She is back at Saratoga, where she won an off-the-the-turf sprint stakes last year by 8 3/4 lengths.

Tamarind Hall was a surprise winner of the Bed o’ Roses in July, rolling to a 5 1/4-length score after showing speed out of the gate, dropping back, and then splitting horses. Trainer Jeremiah Englehart said his filly lost a little weight following that race and definitely needed the eight weeks between races.

“The extra time helped her,” Englehart said. “She’s training like she was, if not stronger than she was, going into the Bed o’ Roses. Obviously, this isn’t the same field as the Bed o’ Roses. You got Hilda’s Passion who could be her dominating self, you got Sassy Image who looks like she’s training really, really well, and Tar Heel Mom who ran a great in the Honorable Miss.”

Tar Heel Mom is 3 for 4 at Saratoga, with her only loss coming in the 2009 Ballerina in which she bled. Trainer Stanley Hough was hesitant about running Tar Heel Mom seven furlongs, but thinks the filly deserves a chance at a Grade 1.

“There are not that many opportunities for her left,” Hough said. “At least she likes the track. Hilda’s Passion and Tar Heel Mom will be up on the front end, we’ll see who runs the farthest. I wish it was three-quarters. I tried to get them to change it, they wouldn’t do it.”

Devil by Design finished fourth in this race last year, but was beaten a half-length for second. She has had only one race this year, a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Chicago Handicap over Arlington’s Polytrack surface and goes out for the always dangerous Bill Mott.

Hour Glass and Bronx City Girl round out the field.

MORE: Full Coverage of the 2011 Travers Stakes »