SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., AUG. 14 -- It was a classic confrontation, one of the most eagerly awaited races of the Saratoga season: Pine Tree Lane vs. Wisla in a battle to determine the fastest filly in America.
Pine Tree Lane had beaten some of the country's best male sprinters in awesomely fast times. Wisla had won her last six races by a total of 62 lengths.
But instead of providing a memorable head-and-head duel, the Ballerina Stakes today turned into a disappointment that revived the hoary cliche that Saratoga is the "graveyard of favorites." I'm Sweets, the longest shot in the five-horse field, rallied in the stretch to win over lightly regarded Storm And Sunshine.
Pine Tree Lane was a soundly beaten third in the $114,600 stakes and Wisla a distant last.
There were no mysteries about the way this seven-furlong race was going to develop. Both of the 4-to-5 co-favorites were habitual front-runners, with Pine Tree Lane having more natural raw speed.
Pine Tree Lane popped out of the gate on top and set the pace, while Wisla had to chase her from the inside. By the time the leader had covered the first quarter-mile in 21 3/5 seconds and the half in :44 flat, Wisla was finished. She had compiled her fancy record at the expense of soft opposition, and she had never encountered speed like this.
But Pine Tree Lane wasn't pulling away from the rest of the field. On the turn, her stablemate North Sider and Storm And Sunshine pulled alongside her to make a challenge, and the three of them battled down the stretch. Then I'm Sweets, who had trailed by more than a dozen lengths early, came flying down the middle of the track to win by three-quarters of a length. Ridden by Eddie Maple, the Alydar filly finished in 1:22 3/5.
The winner paid $32.80, and just about the only person here who professed not to be surprised was trainer Woody Stephens.
"She loves this race track," the veteran said, "and I told my wife to bet her. She figured to be a big price with the two best sprinters in the country in the race with her. Everybody thought I was going bear hunting with a switch, but it was a big switch."
Most people trying to comprehend this shocker will say the fast fractions set up the race for a stretch-runner like I'm Sweets. But Pine Tree Lane has regularly run such fast fractions and finished strongly, anyway. She probably wasn't in peak condition, coming into the race off a 10-week layoff.