08/26/2004 11:00PM

Top trainers tango in Ballerina


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher is the leading trainer in the nation in terms of money won. Steve Asmussen is the leading trainer in the nation in terms of races won.

Sunday, the nation's top two trainers send out the horses to beat in the Grade 1, $250,000 Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga. Pletcher will saddle defending Ballerina winner Harmony Lodge, while Asmussen sends out 2003 Test winner Lady Tak. The two are the co-highweights at 119 pounds in the seven-furlong race.

Harmony Lodge's Ballerina win was one of the more gratifying of Pletcher's meet-record 35 victories. It was the first Grade 1 for Harmony Lodge, and it came late in her 5-year-old season.

"We bought her as a 2-year-old, and I thought she was meant to be a Grade 1 winner from the first time we saw her," said Pletcher, who trains Harmony Lodge for Eugene and Laura Melnyk.

, who is 3 for 4 at Saratoga, has lost her last four starts but ran second to razor-sharp winners Ema Bovary, Randaroo, and Bear Fan in three of those races. For the second straight year, she showed her disdain for Calder by finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Princess Rooney, a race in which Lady Tak finished third. Richard Migliore rides Harmony Lodge, who is coming off Lasix for this race.

gave Asmussen arguably the biggest victory of his career last July when she won the Grade 1 Test in a stakes record 1:20.83. Asmussen has been pointing Lady Tak to this race all year, and is hoping she can duplicate her Saratoga effort from last year.

"If Lady Tak goes 1:20-and-four I don't think she will get beat," Asmussen said. Jerry Bailey, who won the Test on Lady Tak, is back aboard on Sunday from post 3.

Harmony Lodge and Lady Tak have the same front-running style, and if the two duel early, it could set things up for a closer.

looks best of that group. My Trusty Cat came from off the pace to win the Grade 2 Honorable Miss at six furlongs here Aug. 6. Her trainer, David Vance, believes that seven furlongs is better for his filly.

"It's her perfect distance," Vance said. "But I also think it's the perfect distance for some of the other mares in there, and they're the ones to beat, Lady Tak in particular."

Completing the field are Ebony Breeze, beaten a nose by My Trusty Cat in the Honorable Miss, My Boston Gal, Smok 'n Frolic and Final Round.