BALLSTON SPA STAKES | PURSE: $25,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16 MILES (INNER TURF)
Martin S. Schwartz's Zagora bounced right back to her very best in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga, smashing the course record in the process. By sizzling 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf in 1:39.07, the Chad Brown mare eclipsed the old mark of 1:39.92 established by turf champ Leroidesanimaux here in 2005.
Zagora had run a flat third when mounting a title defense in the Grade 1 Diana on July 28, failing to deliver her usual late punch and crossing the wire 4 3/4 lengths adrift of Winter Memories. That was her first outing in more than two months, since her convincing score in the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap on Preakness Day. Bettors were largely willing to overlook that uncharacteristic Diana effort and backed her down to 3-2 favoritism in the Ballston Spa.
Confidently handled by Ramon Dominguez, Zagora was reserved a fair way off the early pace set by the reappearing Summer Soiree. In her first start since a close second in last November's Grade 1 Matriarch, the speedy Summer Soiree reeled off splits of :23 3/5, :46 1/5 and 1:09 2/5. Tapitsfly and Thundering Emilia were her nearest stalkers, but both allowed their free-wheeling rival to open up by daylight.
Dominguez began to get Zagora into position rounding the far turn, and by the time the field swung into the stretch, she was ready to deploy her trademark kick. Tapitsfly and Thundering Emilia weren't making headway, so Zagora quickly loomed as the danger.
Zooming past Summer Soiree in a few strides, Zagora was soon chased by the rallying Hungry Island. But Zagora's turn of foot was too much to overcome. As gamely as Hungry Island tried, she could not get close enough to threaten the winner, and settled for keeping Zagora's margin to 1 1/2 lengths.
Zagora rewarded her loyalists with mutuels of $5, $3.30 and $2.50 while improving her scorecard to 20-9-4-3, $1,168,577.
"This filly had two really good works since the Diana," Brown said. "In hindsight, she probably needed the race. She loves Saratoga, especially when it's firm. She just exploded today.
"Ramon rode her beautifully," the trainer added. "Down the backside, I was feeling pretty good. She had a horse directly in front of her, but those fractions were pretty demanding. I knew she was ready to run. When he tipped her out, it was pretty much over."
"I had an absolutely beautiful trip," Dominguez said. "The filly with speed [Summer Soiree] went at it, and I was able to sit back. When it was time, I went around and she finished up very nicely for me."
Hungry Island was easily best of the rest, reporting home 3 3/4 lengths on top of Summer Soiree, who salvaged third by a half-length from the late-running Ruthenia. Heavenly Landing, Tapitsfly, Thundering Emilia and Mykindofladyfriend completed the order under the wire. Main-track-only entrant Acting Happy stayed in the barn and will likely instead run in Monday's 2ND race.
The French-bred Zagora was initially trained in her homeland, where she captured the Group 3 Prix Vanteaux and Group 3 Prix de Psyche and placed in the Group 3 Prix de la Nonette and Prix La Camargo. She made her American debut in the 2010 Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, closing belatedly for second.
Subsequently transferred to Brown, Zagora reappeared in 2011 with a near-miss second in the Grade 3 Hillsborough. Next came a third in the Jenny Wiley (then a Grade 2), and a fast-closing second in the Grade 2 New York, before she scored a career high in the Diana. Unfortunately, Zagora was not able to build on that Grade 1 breakthrough for herself, and for her trainer. She was a non-threatening seventh in her follow-up in the Grade 2 Canadian at Woodbine, and headed to the sidelines.
Zagora began 2012 in razor-sharp fashion at Tampa Bay Downs, turning the Grade 3 Endeavour/Hillsborough double. The daughter of Green Tune took another crack at the Jenny Wiley, now upgraded to Grade 1 status, but never had a realistic chance when held up off a risibly slow pace. A better-than-appears fifth that day, the chestnut rebounded with a more legitimate pace scenario in the Gallorette.
Brown indicated that Zagora could switch to Polytrack at Keeneland.
"Calendar-wise, the Spinster [Grade 1 on October 7] might fit," Brown said. "That would be my first choice, but I'll talk to Mr. Schwartz about that."
Zagora was bred by E. Puerari and Oceanic Bloodstock in France and sold for $139,602 as an Arqana August yearling. The five-year-old is out of the unraced Mtoto mare Zaneton, who is also responsible for the stakes-placed Zanet. Zagora hails from the family of French highweight older sprinter Titus Livius and Group 2 German One Thousand Guineas heroine Briseida. Further back, her fifth dam is noted broodmare Mia Pola, ancestress of French classic winner and multiple champion Sulamani, dual classic victor Dream Well and Grade 1 diva Tuzla, among others.