Same Dance, New Partner

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In the photo, you can count the treads on John Velazquez’s boots. Braced like the anchor man in a tug of war, his feet are angled at 45 degrees, his hands eight inches off Turbulent Descent’s neck, her ears are pinned back as she rips through a half-mile breeze on the main track, 20 days before the Grade I Ballerina.

“She was working very relaxed until I started working her for whatever reason,” Velazquez explained. “We put her in company the first time I worked her, we galloped to the pole really easy, I left her alone, left her alone, when I got to the pole, I kind of let her know she was breezing and that was it.”

Velazquez learned a lot that day, putting the tutorial to good use in the Ballerina, his first afternoon trip aboard the multiple grade one stakeswinner. She made most of the decisions, Velazquez went along with them and they secured the $500,000 stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over late-running Derwin’s Star and pacesetter All Due Respect. Turbulent Descent won for the eighth time, eclipsing the $1 million mark in career earnings and rewarded owners Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith for their summer purchase of last year’s Test winner.

Turbulent Descent broke cleanly, bounced lightly off Nicole H to her inside and Velazquez sat as still as a beekeeper, hoping she would relax for the first stages as All Due Respect cut out the first quarter in 23.02. Island Bound and Nicole H stayed inside Turbulent Descent as the trio tracked the longshot leader. Velazquez kept Turbulent Descent on the outside, in the clear and about 2 lengths off the leader. Velazquez, remembering the morning breezes, tried to cajole Turbulent Descent to the quarter pole, but the stout filly came up with her own plan after bouncing with Nicole H in the turn. Taking over the decisions, Turbulent Descent sparred with Nicole H and engaged All Due Respect midway on the turn. The trio rolled into the stretch on even terms but it was obviously over as Turbulent Descent accelerated away from her tiring rivals. Velazquez relied on an aggressive hand ride, switching his whip to his left hand past the eighth pole before staying on to win by 1 1/4-length from Derwin’s Star who had three quarters of a length on All Due Respect. Turbulent Descent finished 7 furlongs in 1:22.13.

After the race, Pletcher leaned on the rail of the winner’s circle and watched the replay of a race that played out as it was drew up.

“We kind of knew from watching her races and watching her train what to expect, more or less, she showed us what we expected. One thing that we talked about was that you want to be a little careful when you really pull the trigger it doesn’t last that long, we wanted to be careful not to get there too soon because she might wait a little bit when she makes the lead,” Pletcher said. “She idled a little bit the last part, nonetheless it was a big win. It’s pretty rare that you get an opportunity to acquire one like this and we’re appreciative of the opportunity.”

Pletcher and bloodstock agent Steve Young put the deal together to purchase the three-time Grade I stakeswinner from California based trainer Mike Puype.

“We talked about it, called Mr. Tabor and told him, he talked about it with his team and everyone agreed based on her accomplishments that she was a valuable commodity as a broodmare and with some races still to come that it made sense,” Pletcher said. “I flew out to California and watched her train, Mike Puype couldn’t have been any nicer, he told me everything about her, watched her train with him and we got the deal done with this race in mind. We’re fortunate that everything went according to plan.”

Fresh off a win in the Desert Stormer, a $72,000 stakes at Hollywood Park in June, Turbulent Descent looked like a cinch in her return to Saratoga where she had dominated the Test last summer. Pletcher took over, gave her a series of breezes, employing Velazquez for two of them and aimed at the biggest sprint stakes for fillies and mares at Saratoga.

“I don’t think you don’t want to be too cute with one like this. She’s one of those fillies that she’s so kind to train and so idle, that if you didn’t know who she was, she wouldn’t tout you until you breeze her in company,” Pletcher said. “We were happy we got the amount of time we did with her, Johnny got to breeze her a couple of times and we got comfortable with her, we felt like she was coming into this race in top shape. I told Mr. Tabor I’d be disappointed if she doesn’t run really well, but that’s to be expected when you buy one that’s now a grade one winner at 2, 3 and 4.”

Velazquez had seen her Grade I stakes score at 3, up and close and personal, finishing nearly 4 lengths behind her on Pomeroys Pistol in the Test last summer. That experience, lessons learned by watching replays and the morning insight she provided had the Hall of Fame jockey well prepared to keep her at the top of the game.

“I knew her, I watched how David Flores rode her, she’s not very good from the gate, he puts her on the outside and kind of drops the reins, I think the reason is when you grab her, she gets in the bridle,” Velazquez said. “This time, in the clear, she was going to be on the bridle. Today, she broke OK, got bumped a little, got into the bridle a little bit, I put my hands down and she relaxed pretty good the first part, she got strong but not crazy aggressive. I never got her covered up where I could throw the reins at her.”

Pletcher warned Velazquez that would she would be taking the reins rather than he throwing them.

“Todd told me she was going to be sharp today, ‘just watch her, when you ask her, she’s going to be quick.’ I was expecting what she did today, I knew she would be sharp today. Now that she ran, I expect her to be easier the first part of the race. She’s like a little bull, she’s so smooth when she runs. As big as she is, she’s smooth in her stride, hopefully we can keep her that way.”

With the first test taken and aced and Turbulent Descent walking to the test barn in her brand-new Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Challenge cooler, Pletcher had already begun to think about the next question, whether to go straight to the Breeders’ Cup or try to pick off another stakes between now and then.

“The question is whether we are going to have one more or no more and go straight to the Breeders’ Cup,” Pletcher said. “She seems to run well fresh, we won’t overthink it, ultimately she’ll tell us if she wants to run once in between. Ultimately, with one like her, you wouldn’t want to jeopardize her chances at the Breeders’ Cup by getting greedy in between. We would like to peak on that day.”