Breeders’ Cup Saturday: Covfefe, Come Dancing meet in F&M Sprint

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First of all, we couldn’t resist. When an owner names a horse Covfefe, in today’s world, the headline just had to be a bit edgy. So, we went with Bigly and even dug up a verb to describe her win in the Grade 1 Test early in the 2019 meet at Saratoga Race Course.

And LNJ Foxwoods’ 3-year-old filly is the 2-1 favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. She breaks form the rail for jockey Joel Rosario, while looking for her fifth win of 2019. She’ll get a big test from fellow Saratoga Grade 1 winner Come Dancing. That 5-year-old mare blossomed in 2019, winning four of five so far for Blue Devil Racing Stable and trainer Carlos Martin. At the Spa, she won the Grade 1 Ballerina on the Travers undercard.

Bigly. Covfefe trumps Oaks winner in Grade 1 Test. Written for the Aug. 4 Saratoga Special by Tom Law.

Brad Cox looked up the stretch at Saratoga Race Course, saw Covfefe and Serengeti Empress locked in a fight worthy of the setting, and tossed out a spoiler to the future legend that will be the 94th running of the Grade 1 Test.

“She’s not getting by,” he said of Serengeti Empress, the speedy Kentucky Oaks winner trying to battle back against the white-faced filly Cox trains for the Roth family’s LNJ Foxwoods operation. Cox recalled what he thought halfway through a glass of champagne in the Saratoga Room and alternating his attention from the replay of the Test and conversations with friends.

The half-downed bubbly and the half-length margin at the finish proved Cox correct. Serengeti Empress didn’t get past, Covfefe became a Grade 1 winner, Jaime Roth again found herself moved to tears and the 2019 Test added itself to the list of Saratoga throwdowns that people fortunate to witness never forget.

The You and Carson Hollow battle in the 2002 Test set the modern standard and it’s no stretch to put Covfefe and Serengeti Empress in the same class.

“We had to get by a Kentucky Oaks winner. That’s a Grade 1-winning filly on the inside and now we have a Grade 1 winner,” Cox said. “It was a big effort and I’m super proud of her. I’m very thankful for LNJ Foxwoods to give us an opportunity like this. She’s a fantastic filly. Very fast.”

Tom Amoss, who trains Serengeti Empress for Joel Politi, saluted his filly and the winner. Covfefe, who broke a near 30-year-old 6-furlong track record at Pimlico this spring, won the 7-furlong Test in 1:21.26.

“Next time,” he said, standing just off the winner’s circle while the LNJ Foxwoods team revved up the celebration. “I’m going to take myself out of it, that’s what the fans were hoping for. For myself personally I wish it had gone the other way. What a stretch duel. We got beat by a wonderful performance by our opponent, Covfefe, and just as important I watched the last sixteenth of a mile and how my filly kept fighting. I couldn’t be more proud of her. There will be other days for her. Don’t take anything away from Serengeti Empress, she ran great. 

“Obviously on a much smaller scale, I’m personal friends with John Veitch and now I kind of know how he felt when he had Alydar. Certainly this was no Alydar-Affirmed classic matchup but I know how hard it must be to see your horse run really, really well, be so proud of them and not get to the winner’s circle.”

Amoss called his shot all week, saying Serengeti Empress would employ similar front-running tactics that won her the Kentucky Oaks from post 13 and plaudits for her game runner-up to Guarana in the Grade 1 Acorn five weeks later.

Jose Ortiz put Serengeti Empress on the lead from the start and she outran Covfefe, coming off a close third to older fillies and mares in the Roxelana at Churchill Downs June 22. Joel Rosario stayed patient on Covfefe, letting Serengeti Empress lead by a length through the opening quarter in :22.19

Trenchtown Cat, Please Flatter Me, Royal Charlotte and Bellafina, a three-time Grade 1 winner and the 2-1 favorite, did their best to chase up the backstretch with little success. Serengeti Empress continued to lead heading into the far turn and remained a length clear of Covfefe after a testing half in :44.28.

The two turned for home side-by-side clear of the field.

Ortiz asked his mount first, giving her a crack right-handed cutting the corner and Serengeti Empress responded. Covfefe countered, responding to Rosario’s hand ride and finally a few right-handed taps outside the eighth pole and past 6 furlongs in 1:08.18. They edged clear late, an inch becoming a head, a head becoming a neck and not much more on the wire.

The margin proved enough to set off a wild celebration among the LNJ team, which included the principles Jaime Roth and her parents Larry and Nanci Roth and their bloodstock advisors Alex Solis II and Jason Litt, who found the filly late in Book 2 of the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Jaime Roth made her way to the winner’s circle in tears, appreciative of Covfefe’s effort and in admiration of the filly they bought for $250,000 and named for the president’s social media blunder.

“She’s such a good filly,” she said after celebrating with a toast to her team in the Saratoga Room. “Obviously there are so many people that doubted whether she could get the distance. I love when a horse can just prove otherwise.”

The doubts popped up after Covfefe blitzed the field in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness the day before the second jewel of the Triple Crown, winning the 6-furlong stakes in 1:07.70 and breaking the track record by more than a second.

Cox kept Covfefe at Churchill Downs to prepare for the Test and chose the 6-furlong Roxelana as the bridge race between trips to Pimlico and Saratoga.

She finished third behind older rivals Mia Mischief and Awestruck, beaten less than a length after a bump at the start and a pace battle up front with the winner.

Cox conceded he didn’t have Covfefe “cranked up for that race,” and went to work readying her for the Test. She breezed four times at Churchill before the Test, including 6 furlongs in 1:11.20 July 19 and a half in :47.80 July 26. Covfefe arrived in Saratoga Tuesday and made her first trip to the main track to train Wednesday morning.

 The Test gave Covfefe her fourth win in six starts, along with a maiden score at Churchill in her debut and a 2019 season-opening victory in an optional early in the Keeneland spring meet. The $275,000 first-place check more than doubled her earnings to $483,300.

“She’s been special from the beginning,” Jaime Roth said. “It’s been a lot of management and putting her in the right spots. We knew she was going to bounce off her Pimlico race, we just had to accept it, that she’s going to lose. That’s a very hard thing for an owner. But you knew you were doing it for this race. And it paid off.”

ComeDancingDancing Queen. Come Dancing waltzes in Grade 1 Ballerina. Written for the Aug. 25 Saratoga Special by Ben Gowans.

Marc Holliday gathered his family and friends in the Saratoga Room and gave a toast to Grade 1 Ballerina winner Come Dancing and trainer Carlos Martin, putting into words what the moment meant to the New York City real estate investor.

A moment filled with elation, and emotion.

“One month ago, my father passed away. This win is dedicated to him,” Holliday said after the toast. “He got me into this business. He owned Standardbreds back in the 70s and 80s and raced on the New York circuit and at the Meadowlands. Back in the day there would be 25- or 30,000 people on Saturday night and I wouldn’t miss a race. The most exciting thing in the world to me was to be there for those races in the winner’s circle with him. It wasn’t only the excitement of racing but that bond we had that was all about horses.”

A fan of racing from the start after experiencing it with his father Morton, Holliday started Blue Devil Racing in 2007.

“When I got to a point in life where I was able to get into the business myself with my partner James O’Reilly, I did it. In part, I did it for my love of racing but in part I did it for my father,” he said. “From that time forward, he was an avid supporter, nothing made him happier than watching this horse race. I was comforted knowing he was watching down on this race today. “

Watching down on Blue Devil’s homebred Come Dancing win the $500,000 Ballerina and earn a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

“That was fun. Nothing before, maybe nothing ever going forward could equal what she just accomplished,” Holliday said as he departed the winner’s circle with Come Dancing’s saddlecloth and a Breeders’ Cup hat. “I got this hat and I’m looking forward to that, but for me as a New Yorker and a lifetime fan of NYRA racetracks, winning a Grade 1 here in Saratoga doesn’t get better.”

The Grade 1 victory was Blue Devil Racing’s first. Holliday was joined by wife Sheree, daughter Danielle and many other family members in the winner’s circle. Come Dancing’s owners always thought she was capable of achieving horse racing’s pinnacle.

“I looked back recently at all of the notes I got from the farm and my notes from seeing her,” Holliday said. “It was always the same; big, gorgeous filly with a lot of leg and a lot of hip. She looked then like she looks now. A tremendous physical specimen who just had to overcome a couple of conformational flaws to express her greatness.”

Those flaws are quite possibly what led to the filly fracturing her pastern after a debut win in November of her 2-year-old year.

“As a young horse, she had some challenges and setbacks. She’s a little bit off on the front right conformationally,” Holliday said. “We always had to be very patient with how we brought her along. She had a pretty significant injury at 2. We had to give her over a year off. If we give her the spacing between races, she rises to the occasion like you saw today.”

Come Dancing’s win in the Grade 3 Distaff at Aqueduct in April was trainer Carlos Martin’s first graded stakes score since 2003. The Ballerina was the trainer’s second Grade 1. He won the Grade 1 Top Flight with Buy The Firm in 1991.

Holliday’s nephew Andrew Wolff interned with Dr. Michael Galvin eight years ago and worked with Martin’s horses. He introduced his uncle to the trainer.

“I’m just excited. Happy for everyone, Mark, Danielle, Sheree, all of the Holliday family,” Martin said. “They have all supported me so much after my main client Mr. Lizza passed away. Eight years ago they gave me horses and it helped me so much. So, to win a big race in Saratoga for them, it’s special because they have meant a lot to me.”

Come Dancing broke a step slowly in the Ballerina and was relegated to last after rival Special Relativity came out and bumped the eventual winner. Last, not her usual position in front. Javier Castellano, riding the filly for the first time, immediately guided her to race outside of the four others in the field.

“She had not done that. She did it a little when she got her head sideways in the Ruffian and then last time she broke really fast,” Martin said. “Today, I thought she broke with the field but Special Relativity came over on her really quickly and knocked her off stride. Javier said the way it turned out, with him being able to watch the pace develop, maybe it was a blessing.”

Second choice Separationofpowers and third choice Mia Mischief were not going nearly fast enough for Come Dancing to remain in last. Just before the opening quarter mile was posted in :23.31, Come Dancing pulled at Castellano. He pulled back but allowed the 5-year-old mare to join the leaders, leaving the second flight of Dawn The Destroyer and Special Relativity behind.

Come Dancing settled into rhythm after that while perched outside of the two fillies pegged as her main competition in the betting. Separationofpowers had enough before the field turned for home and Mia Mischief assumed command just before Come Dancing said goodbye.

Castellano asked his mount to do away with her foes and she responded. Come Dancing drifted down to the rail through the stretch and won the Ballerina by 3 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:21.48 for the 7 furlongs.

On horseback just outside the winner’s circle, Juan “Bam Bam” Galvez was proud of Come Dancing’s accomplishment. The pony rider showed it, saying “my filly” as the Ballerina winner exited the winner’s circle.

“Bam Bam has spent every day with her for the last three years. He’s gotten her to settle,” Martin said. “He and the pony have been her companion. She’s just gotten into that routine where she knows her job and little by little mentally she’s gotten more relaxed.

“She just has always done things so easily. Big, beautiful filly, you can’t even tell she’s running. She’ll go :47, :46 and you think she’s not even breezing. She’s just a special horse.”

Second to Personal Ensign winner Midnight Bisou last out in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps June 8, Come Dancing won her seventh race in 12 starts, upping her career earnings to $881,700. A career that started in November 2016 but didn’t resume until December 2017.

“She’s had issues but she’s been sound for the last few years, just circumstance is why she hasn’t run more. Nothing major,” Martin said. “She thrived here last year when she won, she thrived here this year. When she’s right, she thrives anywhere but Saratoga doesn’t seem to hurt, that’s for sure.

 “We had that setback as a 2-year-old where she fractured her pastern. It’s been a bumpy road but thank God we have some owners that are patient and that all made the difference. Every time she had a hiccup, Mark and James would say give her time, give her more time, more time. As a 5-year-old, we’re seeing all of this pay off.”