Bettors sent champion Sistercharlie off as the 2-5 favorite in her comeback in Saturday’s $194,000 Ballston Spa Stakes (G2), but it was the other champion – Blue Heaven Farm’s reigning Canadian Horse of the Year Starship Jubilee – who starred on the Saratoga turf.
The 3-1 second choice with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano aboard, Starship Jubilee was returning from a break herself, partly as a result of the fluid calendar thanks to COVID-19. The Kevin Attard mare was busy early in the year, scoring a three-peat in the Jan. 18 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf and extending her streak in the Feb. 8 Suwannee River (G3) and Mar. 7 Hillsborough (G2). After the pandemic canceled Keeneland’s Spring Meet, Starship Jubilee was freshened to point for the second half.
Sistercharlie’s layoff was longer, since a third in her title defense in the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Although the 2018 champion turf female had returned from a similar absence to repeat in last summer’s Diana (G1), this reappearance was a little different. The now 6-year-old was resuming at a 1 1/16-mile trip that’s on the sharp side for her, unlike the Diana’s 1 1/8 miles.
Indeed, the Ballston Spa would have been an improbable target for Sistercharlie in normal times. Its regular slot in late August doesn’t fit her preferred summer itinerary culminating in the Beverly D. (G1). But now that the Ballston Spa has effectively swapped places with the Diana, and the Beverly D. is on hiatus at Arlington, trainer Chad Brown opted to use it as Sistercharlie’s starting point. After all, she’d won the 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley (G1) off a lengthy absence in 2018 – but she was a 4-year-old then, and perhaps ring-rustier, or generally a little more dour, with age.
While stablemate North Broadway played the role of rabbit, the 26-1 longshot didn’t have to go all that fast to build up a substantial lead. She carved out an opening quarter in :24.29 on the firm inner course and nearly doubled her margin to 10 lengths at the half in :48.18.
Starship Jubilee spent the first part of the race just getting in sync after a troubled start. Castellano said on the Fox Sports broadcast that the mare wasn’t set in the gate and that he’d asked for more time to prepare her, only to have the latch sprung on them. Starship Jubilee hit the gate and appeared rank in the early stages, but Castellano absolved her of any blame.
“The horse broke sideways and my (right) foot hit the door. It was painful. With the pain, I tried to rate the horse and I think I grabbed a little too much. It looked like the horse was keen, but she wasn’t.”
Starship Jubilee regrouped to track in third, one spot behind the 4-1 Call Me Love. Sistercharlie was biding her time in fourth, trailed by the 32-1 Bramble Queen in the small field of five.
As North Broadway began to tire at the end of 6 furlongs in 1:12.68, Call Me Love had advanced to within a few lengths. Starship Jubilee adroitly covered her move, and the two overtook the spent pacesetter turning for home. Sistercharlie was also on the march, until swinging into the stretch when she lacked enough of a kick to catch the new leaders.
Call Me Love tried to capitalize on saving more ground than Starship Jubilee (21 feet according to Trakus), but the multiple Sovereign Award winner proved too strong. A neck up on the persistent Call Me Love, Starship Jubilee completed the course in 1:41.76.
Sistercharlie, racing on her left lead before switching to her right around midstretch, checked in another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Under sympathetic handling by Hall of Famer John Velazquez when it was clear that she was not gaining, the favorite kept on to suggest she’ll benefit from this. Her three-peat attempt in the Aug. 23 Diana could play out much better.
There was a five-length gap back to Bramble Queen, and a similar margin back to North Broadway. The main-track-only Another Broad stayed in the barn.
Castellano paid tribute to Starship Jubilee’s effort to upstage Sistercharlie.
“I had to fight her a little bit. She’s such a great horse, to beat Sistercharlie – she’s one of the best fillies in the country. I think we were in the right time and the right place to beat her today. I give all the credit to my horse.
“Finally, I decided to be a little more patient and relax the horse. The way the race developed was phenomenal. I like the way she did it. We had to take on a number one horse in the country like Sistercharlie. I think it was the right time today and the right place to beat her, not to take anything from my horse. I’m very satisfied with the way she did it today.”
Attard was watching remotely from Woodbine in light of the COVID restrictions.
“I kept saying to the TV, ‘give me a little more, mama,’ and she did,” the trainer said. “She pinned her ears back and kept that horse (Call Me Love) at bay.”
Attard praised Castellano as well as the hospitality of Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey.
“I thought Castellano rode her perfectly. (North Broadway) opened up and did the job they intended her to do and set the pace up for Sistercharlie. Going into the turn, Sistercharlie was flanking us the whole way and had dead aim on us. Coming around the turn to the quarter pole, I could see Johnny V start to go to work and she didn’t look like she was picking up the bit yet and I thought if we could just stay ahead of her, at this point, we might be able to get the advantage. The favorite didn’t kick in and the one horse (Call Me Love) kept battling back. It looked like we were safe and home, but the one wouldn’t lay down and made it a good fight to the finish.
“Shug and his crew did an incredible job helping me out. Considering the situation with COVID this year, it was hard not to be able to send somebody with your own horse. But I was in great hands and that made the whole experience easier to handle. I’m looking forward to getting her home and evaluating what to do next.”
Starship Jubilee, famously claimed for a mere $16,000 at Gulfstream Park in Feb. 2017, has now bankrolled $1,608,667 from a 36-18-5-3 line. Canada’s champion turf mare for the past three years in a row, she has also captured the 2017 Nassau (G2) and Dance Smartly (G2), the 2018-19 runnings of the Canadian (G2), and last fall’s E.P. Taylor (G1) in her Horse of the Year clincher.
Still going strong as a 7-year-old, Starship Jubilee is reportedly aiming to defend her E.P. Taylor crown and bid for a new summit in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Hence the Ballston Spa could be just round one with Sistercharlie.
“She’s just a special horse,” Attard summed up. “She’s seven, and a lot of horses as they get older lose a step or two, but arguably, this horse has gotten better as she’s gotten older. She has the will and desire to win and I’ll probably never come across another horse as good as her.”
Bred by William P. Sorren in Florida, Starship Jubilee is the only graded stakes winner sired by the A.P. Indy stallion Indy Wind. Her dam, the Forest Wildcat mare Perfectly Wild, has produced a couple of stakes-placed performers in Starship Nala and The Flying Whizzer. But she follows more after second dam Perfect Arc, whose major wins include the 1995 Queen Elizabeth II Invitational Challenge Cup (G1) and Diana.