Marley's Freedom Impresses in Ballerina Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

August 27th, 2018

The Hall of Fame trainer has won a lot of big races through the years, but one that has proven elusive is the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I), the season-ending championship race for female sprinters.

However, it appears that Baffert will have a very strong chance to check off that box in November thanks to Marley’s Freedom, who proved a decisive winner of the $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) on Saturday at Saratoga.

The seven-furlong sprint offered a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Filly & Mare Sprint, a prize that Marley’s Freedom secured with ease. And that ease was purely the result of her talent, for she received far from a perfect trip in the Ballerina. Breaking from post position seven under jockey Mike Smith, the four-year-old daughter of Blame was caught very wide while racing in mid-pack through a modest opening quarter-mile in :23.11 seconds, which should have given the leaders (including the accomplished Lewis Bay) a clear advantage.

But instead, Marley’s Freedom stayed right within range as the pace picked up through a :45.44 half-mile, and when Smith asked her to run at the top of the stretch, she responded with a burst of speed that carried her to a 1 ½-length advantage following six furlongs in a quick 1:08.92 seconds. Lewis Bay couldn’t keep pace, and neither could the longshot Still There, rallying mildly after stumbling at the start. In the final furlong, Marley’s Freedom bid her pursuers farewell and pulled away to win by 3 ¼ lengths, a margin that—while decisive—does not fully measure the authority by which Marley’s Freedom prevailed.
Her final time of 1:21.39 may be more indicative of how big a race she ran. It was the fastest of three Grade 1 races held over seven furlongs on Saturday at Saratoga, missing the 40-year-old track record by less than one second while producing a 100 Beyer speed figure.

In a year when the Filly & Mare Sprint division lacks a clear leader, Marley’s Freedom is stamping her claim as the front-runner to win the Breeders’ Cup and the Eclipse Award as champion female sprinter. With four straight wins under her belt (including three graded stakes victories), Marley’s Freedom can seemingly do no wrong these days, and perhaps she’ll be able to go one better than Baffert’s old star Indian Blessing—runner-up in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint—and come out on top in the championship race.