By Jeff Nations
CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Ollie Figgins III has been in the racing business far too long to look ahead much past the race unfolding right in front of his eyes.
The son of a successful jockey-turned-trainer, Figgins also briefly tried his hand as a jockey before diving into training full-time in 2005 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Soon enough, Figgins was fielding regular winners and moving up the training ranks.
Figgins has had plenty of good horses in his burgeoning career as a conditioner, but he'd be hard-pressed to name a better one that Dance to Bristol. The Kentucky-bred 4-year-old filly punched Figgins' return ticket to Santa Anita for next month's Breeders' Cup. The daughter of Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Speightstown nailed down a spot in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint scheduled for Nov. 2 at the famed Los Angeles track.
Figgins has been there before. In 2008, just three years into his career as a trainer, Figgins and owner Ray Pennington III, of Front Royal, struck gold with a 4-year-old gelding named Rouse the Cat. The former $10,0000 claimer, based at Charles Town, surprisingly made the cut for the Breeders' Cup that year with a runner-up effort in the Grade II Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine. At Santa Anita, though, the 13-1 pick Rouse the Cat never did awaken, finishing 12th despite the best efforts of famed jockey Edgar Prado.
Dance to Bristol, unlike Figgins' first Breeders' Cup horse, is no fringe contender. Already a multiple stakes winner heading into this season, Dance to Bristol gained a wider audience with a dazzling effort in her return to Charles Town for the $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes back in April. Under jockey Luis Perez, the second-choice filly pulled away from favorite Holiday Soiree through the final turn and rolled to a nine-length victory in 1:24.79 over the seven-furlong distance.
Figgins, who splits his operation now between Charles Town and the Bowie Training Center in Maryland, scored another stakes win with his prized pupil at Pimlico the following month, then forayed into graded company for the Grade III Bed o' Roses Handicap at Belmont. No problem, as Dance to Bristol cruised to a 2 ¾-length win for owner Susan Wantz. Originally purchased by Wantz at auction for $42,000 as a 2-year-old in training, Dance to Bristol had already proven well worth that price.
She wasn't done. After winning her sixth straight race in the Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga, Dance to Bristol locked up her Breeders' Cup invitation by taking the Grade I , $500,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 23. That seven-furlong test pitted Figgins' charge against Bob Baffert-trained Book Review, the original heavy favorite in the Sugar Maple at Charles Town before scratching from that race.
Dance to Bristol prevailed in her long-awaited chance to face Book Review, holding off a late charge to win by a head in 1:23.11 over seven furlongs.
A runner-up effort at the Grade II Gallant Bloom Handicap snapped Dance to Bristol's winning streak at seven, but did little to shake Figgins' faith in the chestnut filly.
"So far, so good," Figgins said. "She'll breeze Friday morning and if all goes well with her breeze, she'll fly out Saturday."
At Saturday's West Virginia Breeders' Classics, Figgins scored an impressive win with another filly, 3-year-old Red Hot Diva, who won the $65,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic Distaff by an impressive 6 ½ lengths over the 1 1/8-mile test. Figgins answered a few perfunctory questions about that West Virginia-bred runner, but talk soon turned to Dance to Bristol. Figgins didn't seem to mind.
"I'm not sure if I'm going to breeze her at Laurel or Bowie yet -- it depends on the weather," Figgins said. "If the weather's good, I'll probably leave her right at home."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>