April 22, 2024

Evvie Jets scrambles to $60.50 upset of Ballston Spa

Evvie Jets rallied at 29-1 in the Ballston Spa (Photo by Susie Raisher/Coglianese Photos)

Trainer Mertkan Kantarmaci believed that Evvie Jets had been unfairly typecast as a front runner, and she proved his point by rallying to a 29-1 upset in Thursday’s $300,000 Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga.

Chad Brown appeared to have the turf feature surrounded, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Four of the nine entrants hailed from his barn, led by defending champion and 1.25-1 favorite Technical Analysis. The scratch of his outsider Speak of the Devil didn’t alter the equation. Brown could still rely on other major chances, the 2.95-1 Consumer Spending and 6.30-1 Fluffy Socks, in pursuit of his eighth victory in the Ballston Spa.

Yet Evvie Jets eluded his squadron to score her biggest career win, thanks in part to a chaotic early scenario. The 55-1 longest shot on the board, Sister Bridget, was intent on going forward in tandem with Technical Analysis. Evvie Jets had broken sharply herself, but once those two took off, she settled kindly back in fourth for Manny Franco, the super-sub for injured Luis Saez.

While Technical Analysis was persuaded to defer to Sister Bridget through reported fractions of :23.50 and :48.67, the favorite was herself five or so lengths clear of the rest. Sister Bridget steered into an outward path on the backstretch, presumably a thoughtful maneuver by Katie Davis to keep her out of the way as she inevitably faded.

Jose Ortiz took the opportunity to send Technical Analysis through on the inside, taking over passing the six-furlong mark in 1:13.88. Rounding the far turn, though, the field began to close the gap.

Evvie Jets, hugging the rail throughout, leveraged her ground-saving position to put her head in front by midstretch. Technical Analysis, to her credit, boxed on for as long as she could until swamped in the final yards.

Backers of Consumer Spending had a frustrating view of her passage. Full of steam after biding her time in last, she was crying out for room in the frenetic closing stages. Joel Rosario decided to alter course to the inside and found himself hopelessly blocked.

Fluffy Socks stayed on the outside to become the main danger late, but a resolute Evvie Jets crossed the wire in front by a head. The Twirling Candy mare negotiated about 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf in 1:43.06, a course record according to Equibase, and sparked a $60.50 win payout.

Irish shipper Jumbly also gained steadily down the outside to snatch third, another half-length back in the blanket finish. Gam’s Mission was a fairly one-paced fourth, after Tyler Gaffalione dropped the crop. Technical Analysis, the luckless Consumer Spending, Surprisingly, and Sister Bridget rounded out the order of finish. The main-track-only Into Happiness was withdrawn along with Speak of the Devil.

Franco explained that he just played the race as it unfolded.

“I didn’t have much choice,” the winning rider said about not being on the lead. “They broke out of there, the seven (Sister Bridget) and eight (Technical Analysis), they just break out of there running, sending hard. So I just saved ground all the way around and they come back, you know they come back big time, and I had the filly under me and she just responded to everything I asked her. 

“They didn’t tell me to put her on the lead. They told me to play the break, if you’re there, you’re there, fine. If not, she can rate too, so that’s what I did. I break running, with intention going into the first turn but those guys sent hard, so I just sat. You know, sat on her, and she was there.

“I got like a path or two inside, so that was my only chance so I just take it,” Franco summed up, “and like I said, she responded for me and we get it done.”

Kantarmaci noted how well Franco followed the key instruction.

“They tried to catch the first turn too early, and it was really lucky because they put the hot pace when two horses got together,” the horseman said. “Manny did the right thing – just save and save and our plan was only stick to the rail – and he did – and save in the second turn also. She just made the stretch run today after the hot pace. She can do that. She showed that a long time ago already, but she ends up in fights in the slower pace. Today was the day for her to close.”

Sporting the colors of the late Robert J. Amendola, Evvie Jets was earning her fourth stakes victory, following last October’s Noble Damsel (G3), the April 16 Plenty of Grace S., and the July 2 Perfect Sting S. over Technical Analysis. Her resume of 22-7-6-2, $698,680, also reflects close seconds in last fall’s Athenia (G3) and Forever Together S. She was only sixth behind Technical Analysis in the Aug. 2 De La Rose S. at the Spa, but connections cited a problematic trip. The Ballston Spa vindicated that view.

“I knew the seven-horse (Sister Bridget) was going to go,” said Michael Amendola, Robert’s son, “and they just put some really good pace into the race. We were OK with that and we always felt like she didn’t need to be on the lead to win. I know everybody thought that, but these guys (the Kantarmaci brothers) showed a lot of confidence to run her back after the De La Rose – we just drew a line right through that race. She came back like she didn’t even run. We’re so excited.”

Kantarmaci commented on how much Evvie Jets, a shrewd $80,000 claim at Belmont Park in September 2021, means to them.

“Since the first day, we took care of her like a stakes horse because I knew she was going to come to that level, but we wanted to go step by step with her,” her trainer said. “Now, of course, she’s extra special after this race. Unbelievable she did that today.

“It means a lot. In Saratoga, we win a graded race today with a longshot horse. Actually, she proved herself with the Grade 3 (Noble Damsel) and second in the graded race (the Athenia). But today I’m happy for her. She put a label on her that she’s a name right now.

“We did at Belmont too,” Kantarmaci said of beating Brown, “but it wasn’t graded; it was just regular stakes (the Perfect Sting). Here, to beat again the graded horses – they proved themselves way earlier a long time ago – it means a lot to beat the best trainer, best horses on the turf, in the toughest meet. It means a lot with this filly. This is a gift to us.”

The Oct. 7 First Lady (G1) at Keeneland is a possibility.

“That’s going a mile and that’s our bread and butter,” Amendola said. “It’s certainly one that we’re looking at, but we’ll cherish this one and hopefully she comes out of it all right. She has the heart of a champion and we never had any doubt. The board didn’t say so, but we had no doubt.”

“After this race,” Kantarmaci said, “I think it’s a question mark. We were thinking to give a good retirement to her and make her an early mom, but let’s see.”

Bred by Farfellow Farms in Kentucky, Evvie Jets sold for $75,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The bay is out of the Consolidator mare Natchez Trace, who is also responsible for the multiple stakes-placed Forever Mo. Thus Evvie Jets is bred on the successful Candy Ride/Storm Cat cross.