ELMONT, N.Y. -- Seventh Street helped kick off what proved to be a tremendously successful meet for Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stable when she fought back to win the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap on opening weekend of the Saratoga meet.
Her connections hope Seventh Street can begin the Belmont fall season in similar fashion when she heads a six-horse field entered in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Ruffian Handicap. The Ruffian, run at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, is a Win and You're In race, meaning the victor earns an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 6.
The Ruffian is the co-feature Saturday along with the Grade 1 Garden City for 3-year-old fillies on turf on a 10-race card that begins at 1 p.m. Eastern, With only six horses and five betting interests, the Ruffian is carded as race 4 (2:35 p.m. Eastern), thus keeping it out of the pick six and the late pick four. The late pick four (races 7 through 10) has a guaranteed minimum pool of $350,000.
Before entries, the Ruffian was shaping up to be Seventh Street's race to lose. But the presence of Delaware Handicap winner Swift Temper and Molly Pitcher winner Luna Vega - both coming back in less than two weeks - makes the race a bit more interesting.
Seventh Street has won 5 of her last 7 starts and had legitimate excuses in her two losses. In the Go for Wand, run over an extremely sloppy surface, Seventh Street dueled early with Color Me Up, then had to run down Spritely, who had cut the corner and taken a clear lead in upper stretch. Seventh Street won by 1 1/2 lengths over Miss Isella, who nipped Spritely for second on the wire.
Though Seventh Street raced on the pace, she appeared to do it in hand and relaxed under Rajiv Maragh, a sign of maturity that comes with experience, according to assistant trainer Rick Mettee.
"She's a little easier on herself," said Mettee, who helped Godolphin post an 8-for-14 record at the Spa with four Grade 1 victories. "Just a filly getting more races in her going through her 4-year-old season, she's learned to switch off a little bit. Rajiv's been on her for most of her works, and he's got her slowed down."
Seventh Street drew well in post 4, meaning she's outside of the other speed horses, Swift Temper and Be Fair.
Swift Temper finished a well-beaten second to Icon Project in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, a race in which she raced in sixth position early. In the Delaware Handicap, she was able to make the lead early and beat Icon Project by 2 3/4 lengths. Trainer Dale Romans said earlier in the week that he didn't think Swift Temper handled the Saratoga main track too well.
Naturally, Romans is concerned about wheeling Swift Temper back on short rest.
"If we had another week or two and an extra eighth of a mile I'd be real excited," Romans said.
Luna Vega finished a well-beaten sixth to Seventh Street in the Go for Wand. She launched a wide bid around the turn and flattened out in the stretch. "That trip doesn't win at Saratoga," said Scott Blasi, assistant to Luna Vega's trainer, Steve Asmussen.
Blasi said the Ruffian looked like a decent spot to get Luna Vega at least a Grade 1 placing.
"She ran a big race at Monmouth, and to be honest with you, we haven't done too much with her since," Blasi said. "She came out of it really good. She's very durable. I think it sets up well for her."
Exotic Indy is stepping into Grade 1 company for the first time after winning the off-the-turf Omnibus Stakes at Monmouth Park by eight lengths. Skylighter, who will be coupled with Seventh Street, is returning to dirt after a seventh-place finish in the De La Rose on turf. Trainer Graham Motion said Skylighter came out of that race with multiple cuts on a hind leg.
"She's doing great now," Motion said. "It'd be a stretch to think she could beat the Godolphin horse, but if she could get a piece of a Grade 1 it would be a feather in her cap.