SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Some may argue that Malibu Mint had a home field advantage when she upset Dubai Escapade in last month's Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder.
But when the two meet again in Sunday's Grade 1, $250,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, the change of venue may not necessarily favor the New York-based Dubai Escapade. Malibu Mint showed she could handle Saratoga when she ran a bang-up second to Stormy Kiss in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss three weeks ago. Moreover, the way the Saratoga main track is playing has created some concern for Eoin Harty, the trainer of the front-running Dubai Escapade.
Dubai Escapade, who will break from post 4 under Edgar Prado, will most likely try to wire this field going seven furlongs.
"On any other track, on any other surface I wouldn't be concerned at all," Harty said. "But just the way this surface has been playing here all meet, with very few exceptions, it seems that speed has just been terrible. Everything seems to come from off the pace. You look like you're home free at the eighth pole and you just seem to hit the wall at the sixteenth pole. That's my biggest concern."
Dubai Escapade, a daughter of Awesome Again owned by Darley Stable, had won five consecutive races, including four in North America before shipping to Calder for the Princess Rooney. Sent off the 1-5 favorite in the six-horse field, Dubai Escapade chased the pace and faded to sixth, beaten 9 1/2 lengths.
Harty is hoping that Dubai Escapade simply didn't like the track.
"I'm hoping it's the Calder surface rather than bad training," Harty said. "She acts like she's training super, she's very aggressive in the mornings, she's happy to train. Her coat looks good, she's carrying plenty of weight. I don't see any excuses in that department."
Dubai Escapade could get some pace pressure from Stormy Kiss, who won the Honorable Miss, or Indian Flare, who comes off a third-level allowance win and is in receipt of seven pounds from the top two choices.
Malibu Mint would appreciate a battle up front, as she likes to come from off the pace. However, trainer James Chapman felt that jockey Josue' Acre had the filly too far off the pace in the Honorable Miss. She was last coming into the stretch and her six-wide rally fell a neck short.
Chapman has made a rider to change to Garrett Gomez for the Ballerina. Malibu Mint remained in Saratoga following the Honorable Miss and shows two breezes over the main track.
"I think the rider change should be a plus, and I know the filly well enough to know that the way she's acclimated here and how she's doing that she's a better filly than she was at Calder, and she's a better filly than she was in her last race," Chapman said. "She's matured and there's no shipping involved."
Chapman said one of the reasons Malibu Mint has improved this year is because she has overcome foot problems. She now wears glue-on shoes.
Nothing But Fun could have a puncher's chance to upset the top two. A 4-year-old daughter of Dixie Union, Nothing But Fun cuts back to one-turn, something at which she is 4 for 5, including a 1 1/2-length win in the Victory Ride Stakes over this track last August.
She finished second to Take D'Tour in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps around one turn in June before finishing fifth of six in the two-turn Go for Wand last time out.
"I always felt she would be very strong going seven-eighths," trainer Mike Hushion said. "Every time we went two turns it was a question mark."
Grecian Lover, fourth to Stormy Kiss in the Honorable Miss, and High Button Shoes, second to Dubai Escapade in the Grade 2 Vagrancy Handicap at Belmont in June, complete the field.