Faith and Trust

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Ollie Figgins stopped at the top of the stairs, took off his glasses, wiped the corner of his eyes and looked in the air.

“Oh, man.”

His voice quavering, the Mid-Atlantic trainer walked down the steps to greet Dance To Bristol in the winner’s circle for the seventh consecutive time. The other six – wins, stakes wins – but this was the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga.

“She beat good horses today,” Figgins said.

Aboard for all the wins, Xavier Perez negotiated a perfect trip from the inside post, finding a cocoon in fourth, with daylight in front and daylight behind, before rallying wide and staving off favorite Book Review by a head. Villanesca finished third. Owned by Susan Wantz, Dance To Bristol finished 7 furlongs in 1:23.11.

The drama started early.

Longshot Glorious View broke through the gate. Third choice Judy The Beauty thrashed in the gate, tossing jockey Jose Lezcano and was scratched. Rafael Bejarano stepped off Book Review. Five minutes after the scheduled start, 10 fillies and mares broke from the gate, with $500,000 on the line.

Dance To Bristol shot from the gate and led for the first few strides. Perez perched, motionless with a long light hold, allowing Classic Point, Fantasy Of Flight and Glorious View to clear from the outside. After an opening quarter mile in :23.03, the race split into three parts – pace, middle, closers. Classic Point, beaten a neck by Dance To Bristol in the Honorable Miss, led by a half length over Fantasy Of Flight, with Glorious View three wide, stalking. A canoe between rapids, Dance To Bristol held the perfect spot. Villanesca and Moment In Dixie followed 2 lengths behind Dance To Bristol and a length in front of Book Review. The rest scrambled.

Midway on the turn after a half in :45.89, Perez guided Dance To Bristol to the passing lane, aiming outside the leading trio, getting first run on Book Review, who was feeling Bejarano’s urgency.

“I was looking all the time, to see if I had a horse coming to me, I didn’t want to get boxed in,” Perez said. “When I got to the five-sixteenths, I looked to my inside and I see Book Review charging pretty hard, I just threw her head away and let her run.”

At the quarter pole, Dance To Bristol ranged to Classic Point who hung tough while Fantasy Of Flight and Glorious View retreated. Perez stole a look over his left shoulder, catching a glimpse of Book Review. Still composed, Perez hand-rode the Maryland-based filly to the lead, waited for a lead change, then hit her right handed, she angled left. White gloves flashing like a mime in Central Park, Perez switched to his left hand and Dance To Bristol stayed straight as Book Review lunged to her tail, her hip, her girth, her shoulder, her throat. And that’s it, Dance To Bristol fended her off to win her first Grade 1 and second Saratoga stakes this summer.

A month after overcoming a rough trip as the favorite in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss, Dance To Bristol returned with a polished score at her best distance.

“I’m elated, but I took this one a little better. The last time, I was really shook up,” Figgins said. “I didn’t feel so much pressure today, I didn’t think she had to win. I felt like the last time, everybody thought she was a winner. I felt like a bit of an underdog today. It felt good to see her get a good trip, if Book Review beats me there, I’m not disappointed, I had a fair shake.”

Using her speed to secure a position, her composure to wait for a cue and her moxie to finish it out, Dance To Bristol gave herself a fair shake.

“It was perfect,” Perez said. “The trip was amazing. Seven furlongs is her distance. She’s got a good kick but it takes a little bit of time for her to get to her full speed. I can be more patient, I can wait until she tells me she’s ready. Everything has been working out so good for her. The best horse I’ve ridden – ever. We have a bond. She makes you feel like Superman.”

Based at Bowie Training Center in Maryland, Dance To Bristol continued her winning skein that began in February at Laurel Park. Introduced to Perez in an optional claimer, she won easily. Six weeks later, she won another allowance by a head. Figgins picked off the Sugar Maple at Charles Town in April. In May, she won the Skipat. In June, she shipped to Belmont Park to win the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses. In July, she ventured to Saratoga to pull the Honorable Miss from the fire.

Running once a month, every month, Dance To Bristol has relished Figgins’ methodical approach, notching seven wins at three distances over five tracks in ascending order of allowance, local stakes, Grade 3, Grade 2 and Grade 1.

It all began to take shape when Dance To Bristol finished second in the Wide Country at Laurel in March 2012.

“We ran second to Millionreasonswhy, she was beaten a neck to My Miss Aurelia, who’s a real, real horse,” Figgins said. “At that point, in the back of my mind, I thought this filly could be a graded stakes horse for sure, if we stay sound and happy. I kept giving her small increments, moving her up as we could. Just one step at a time, let her graduate as she saw fit.”

After the Wide Country, Dance To Bristol finished second in the Trevose at Parx in April 2012. Figgins aimed her at a stakes at Presque Isle but found some heat in a knee. X-rays detected an issue, but not a problem. Figgins and Wantz decided to give her time, for the knee and for her body to catch up. At the time, she was leggy and athletic and needed to fill out and grow up.

Eight months later, she returned to finish second in an allowance at Charles Town. Figgins decided to take her off the half-mile oval at Charles Town and relocated her to Bowie. She finished second to Bold Affair in the What A Summer at Laurel in January. A month later, she began the streak. Six months later, she became a Grade 1 stakes winner at Saratoga, handing Figgins his biggest achievement as a trainer.

“It’s a great feeling,” Figgins said. “It’s just great they trusted me to keep this horse, anybody could train her, they could have called Pletcher. I’m glad they believed in me, stuck by me and trusted me.”