Baltas, Van Dyke strike again with Insta Erma

Jennie Rees and Dick Downey

Insta Erma, under a patient ride by Drayden Van Dyke, earned her first graded stakes victory in taking the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Stakes from off the pace to beat Valadorna by a neck.

The winner is trained by Richard Baltas, who teamed with Van Dyke to win the Old Friends Stakes at the track on Thursday with Next Shares. Both the trainer and jockey are based in California, as is Insta Erma.

“I’m riding good horses, that’s key,” said Van Dyke, fresh off his first riding title at a major California track when he won the Del Mar crown. “My agent is doing a fabulous job getting me on nice horses and I’m capitalizing on it. I was being patient with her. it’s a long stretch. I felt I had a lot of horse underneath me and I was waiting for the right time, thought that was the key to asking.”

Baltas said it was the first time he won stakes races in back-to-back starts at a track.

“The horses came in early, they went to the training center (at Keeneland) for a couple of days because this place wasn’t open,” he said. “We shipped in, got a couple of gallops over the track. (Assistant trainer) Aime Dollase did a great job, she was here the whole time. Everything looked really good when we got here. The horses were happy. I never won two in a row like this, in stakes. It’s pretty good.”

The Ladies Turf was the 19th career start for the 5-year-old mare, who won for the fifth time in her career. She came into Kentucky Downs off a four-month layoff following a last-pace finish in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.

“The owners are pretty happy right now,” Baltas said. “We’re just very grateful. She was actually coming off a layoff so we gave her some time after the Santa Anita meet. She was a little sore, just body sore and needed a little break. I got her back at the beginning of Del Mar, so I got like four or five works on the grass at Del Mar. We were looking for a race, and the guys said let’s send her here. They found the spot. We were thinking the Ladies Sprint or here. We thought this would probably be better, the mile. It was an owner-trainer decision and just worked out.”

Sent off at 6-1 odds in the eight-horse field, Insta Erma rewarded supporters with payoffs on $2 tickets of $15.40 to win, $8.00 to place and $5.40 to show.

The Ladies Turf was worth $474,780, of which the winner's share of $300,700 goes to owners Medallion Racing, Premier Racing Club, Jerry McClanahan and Christophe Johnson. With the victory, Insta Erma has banked $569,897 in her career.

“She’s going to go sell in November. So for us it was really important to find a spot where she could win a graded stakes,” said co-owner Phillip Shelton of Medallion Racing. “We felt like the mile here, and being a Kentucky-bred with everything Kentucky Downs offers in purse money and the quality of racing is just top notch, so this is the spot that jumped off the paper.

“As far as the trip, I think she was close. I just didn’t want her to be eight lengths off the lead. And for her, she really has to settle. But she has enough tactical speed. Drayden rode her great. He got her in the clear and she battled at the end. She had to battle an eighth of a mile. I saw her take the lead, and then I said, ‘Oh my gosh, she still has an eighth of a mile left to go.’ But she was tough and we couldn’t be happier.

Insta Erma has been knocking on the door for a long time. She had lost three previous starts this year and took only one of six starts last year, but among all those starts she finished second three times and third twice.

“She was doing well but not as well as she was doing earlier in the year,” Shelton said of the four-month layoff. “So we said, ‘Hey let’s give her 30 days. We can make a run at a couple of graded stakes.’ Makes you look pretty smart when it works out well, but really full credit goes to Richard and his team.”

I'm Betty G, the 5-2 favorite, took an uncontested early lead and ran through hand-timed moderate fractions of 25.60 for the first quarter-mile and 48.60 for the half. She led out of the turn and stayed there until faltering in upper stretch, passed first by Valadorna and then by a wide-running Insta Erma. Those two battled to the wire for a final time of 1:36.26.

It was the first start on turf for Stonestreet Stables’ Valadorna, the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up.

“She had trained beautifully,” said David Carroll, assistant to trainer Mark Casse. “Mark took her up to Saratoga to breeze her on the turf and she breezed beautifully. So it gave us a lot of confidence. Obviously until you do it, you don’t know for sure. Florent gave her a great ride and it was just a shame to get beat. Congratulations to the winner. We’re very, very proud of her.”

Said her jockey, Florent Geroux: “She ran great, just got run down the last half-furlong. She won a winning race, and just got beat.”

Pas de Soucis, who was last after the first half-mile of the race, rallied to finish third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths. She was followed across the finish line by Storm the Hill, I'm Betty G, In the Lee, Dubara and Bonnie Arch.

Zayat Stables bred Insta Erma in Kentucky. She's by Pioneerof the Nile and is out of the Woodman mare Enchanted Woods.