Trainer Chad Brown's touch when it comes to developing turf fillies has been without peer in recent years, particularly with those who began their career overseas.
Three of the last four champion grass females have come out of Brown's well-respected program. And when Ball Dancing first came to his barn from France last summer, he said she gave off the same vibe of his past standard-bearers.
On Saturday, Brown watched Ball Dancing run to her potential as she added her name to his list of Grade I-winning turf females. The 4-year-old daughter of Exchange Rate struck the lead at the head of the stretch and drew clear for a 21/2-length victory in the $300,000 Jenny Wiley before a Keeneland crowd of 37,193.
"I was very impressed with her right away," Brown said of Ball Dancing, who joins Samitar, Zagora, Stacelita, and Alterite among the fillies who Brown conditioned to Grade I wins stateside after they began their careers overseas. "She adapted over here quickly and nicely and showed us all the signs she'd be a graded winner over here early on. It's nice to see them run to their training, a horse that couldn't be training any better."
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Previously owned by MD Bloodstock Ltd, Ball Dancing was purchased by William S. Farish and Steve Mooney last summer after bloodstock agent David Ingordo had been tracking her outings in France — the highlight of which was a stakes win in the Prix de la Seine last May.
She immediately backed up that venture by rallying from next to last to win the Grade II Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park last Sept. 13. The dark bay filly then tipped her hand regarding her handling of the Keene land course when she ran second to Crown Queen in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup last Oct. 11 in what would be her final outing of her 3-year-old season.
"She already had a race over Keeneland in which I didn't think she had the best trip," Brown said. "So I know she was comfortable with the course. It was a no-brainer to bring her to the Jenny Wiley. When we gave her a bit of the winter off, we circled this race as our first major objective and she hit it."
Ironically, Ball Dancing began 2015 by running second to her Grade I-winning stablemate Stephanie's Kitten in the Grade III Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on March 7, an effort that served to tighten the screws for her next top-level try.
Her eagerness was apparent in the 11⁄16-mile Jenny Wiley as Javier Castellano restrained her into a stalking position in third coming off the first turn, rating behind pacesetter Eden Prairie and defending race winner Hard Not to Like through a half in 48.48.
When graded stakes winner Filimbi came running on the far outside to mount her bid approaching the final turn, Ball Dancing went right with her with a three-wide move and took command for good in the stretch en route to rewarding her backers that made her the 8-to-5 favorite.
"She's kind of a European (style) horse: You need to cover up a little bit to save something for the end," said Castellano, who also won Friday's Grade I Maker's 46 Mile aboard Jack Milton. "It really worked out beautiful here. I had a perfect trip today. It was amazing. Great filly."
Ball Dancing hit the wire in a final time of 1:43.08 over a yielding course. Filimbi held for second with Hard Not to Like fading to third.
"She got hung wide coming around the bend and lost a bit of ground," said Garrett O'Rourke of Juddmonte Farms, owner of Filimbi. "I think a faster pace to run at and firmer ground will help her."
Brown didn't immediately have a next target pegged for Ball Dancing. However, with the Breeders' Cup being held at Keeneland this year, the thought of her delivering a similar effort over the course this October was already on Farish's mind.
"Oh sure, what do you think?," Farish laughed when asked if a run in the Filly and Mare Turf was the goal. "To bring her home like that would be fantastic. We follow a lot of those fillies racing in Europe and she looked like she a chance to really be something over here."