The 131st Alabama Stakes showcases a field of sophomore fillies that rivals the best in the nation when it comes to depth of talent. Six sophomore fillies will line up in the gate at Saratoga on Saturday to contest the prestigious Grade 1 event. Of the five fillies entered, all six are stakes winner, five are graded stakes winners, three are Grade 1 winners and three are dual graded stakes winners. In short this small field stacks up to a whole lot of talent.
It’s Tricky took the Coaching Club American Oaks by storm in her last start, defeating Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty in a terrific stretch-long duel that shook old Saratoga to it’s very core. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee is in line to win her third consecutive Grade 1 race if she is up to the task in the Alabama. Two starts back she handily defeated Turbulent Descent in the Acorn Stakes (gr.1) before capturing the 1 1/8 mile July 23rd Coaching Club American Oaks over Plum Pretty. Looking at the Mineshaft filly’s finish in the Coaching Club American Oaks where she was extending her lead over Plum Pretty at the wire, it’s not hard to imagine her loving the extra 1/8 of a mile in the 1 ¼ mile Alabama. With just two four furlong works since the Oaks she might be a little short, but the Oaks stretch run was a definite conditioner.
Plum Pretty has steadily been building a reputation as one of the gamest fillies in the land. As the winner of the Kentucky Oaks she demands immediate respect and has never run a poor race in her entire career. Trainer Bob Baffert was unsure of entering his charge in the Alabama after her hard-fought Coaching Club American Oaks run, but changed his mind when he saw how well the Medaglia d’Oro filly bounced out of the race in her next work. She blazed a :48.05 half mile to rank as the second fastest of 31 horses working the distance at Saratoga. She followed that up with an excellent 1:11.87 six furlong breeze before tuning up with a final easy five furlong move in 1:03.12. Jockey Martin Garcia was on board for her latest move and stated that he felt she was, “better than before”. There is very little speed in the Alabama so she could once again wind up on the lead, the only question is whether or not she can last on the front end for an extra 1/8 of a mile. She looks ready to run big and would vault to the front of this division with a win.
St. John’s River was finally able to break her streak of three consecutive second place finishes on July 9th, when she captured the Delaware Oaks (gr.2). Coming from dead last in the Oaks, the Include filly came flying extremely late to just nip front-runner, Strike the Moon, by a head at the wire. It was so close in the fact, that I watched the race as I was preparing to leave for work, observed what I thought was her losing, and went out the door to start my shift. It wasn’t until later that night when I got home that I discovered she had actually won. St. John’s River finished second by less than 1 length combined in both the Fair Grounds Oaks and Kentucky Oaks earlier in the year, all while coming from far back and kicking for home late. She didn’t appear to unleash as devastating a kick in the Delaware Oaks, but was running for the first time in two months and had slower fractions to close into. With that race under her belt and three breezes to boot, the Andrew Leggio Jr. trainee should be prepared to run a much better race than her winning performance in the Delaware Oaks.
Inglorious enters the Alabama Stakes riding the hottest win streak of all the contenders with three consecutive wins. Included in that win-streak is a victory in Canada’s very prestigious Queen’s Plate Stakes over 16 male rivals by an easy 2 ½ lengths. Before the Queen’s Plate, Inglorious captured the La Lorgnette Stakes and Woodbine Oaks against fillies. Earlier in the year trainer Josie Carroll sent the daughter of Hennessey to Fair Grounds for a possible run at the Kentucky Oaks, resulting in a second place finish in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr.3) and a fourth place finish in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She is undefeated on Woobine’s All Weather synthetic track but has yet to win on the dirt. Her Rachel Alexandra effort was very promising, and should indicate she is a major force to be reckoned with. Her preparation for the Alabama has been nothing short of spectacular as she has produced three exceptional recent works beginning with a .59:20 five furlong breeze followed by a 1:13.20 six furlong breeze and most recently a fantastic :47.40 four furlong bullet. Fitness is not an issue, the only issue is whether or not she can translate her amazing Woodbine form to Saratoga’s dirt surface.
Royal Delta has a lifetime record of three wins, a third and a ninth place finish in just five starts. The imposing daughter of Empire Maker disappointed in her first start of the year when she finished a dismal 9th behind Wyomia in the Suncoast Stakes but bounced right back in the third start of her career to win an allowance impressively at Keeneland one month later. She showed up one month after that to demolish the Black-Eyed Susan field and became a Grade 2 winner in just her fourth lifetime start. Given two months between races, trainer Bill Mott brought Royal Delta back in the Coaching Club American Oaks where she finished more than six lengths behind It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty with absolutely no excuses. If there is any pattern to find in her brief career thus far, it is that she runs poorly off a break, but brings a big performance to the table in her second race back. She may still be a step behind the top four, but with two very strong five furlong works at Saratoga and plenty of room to still improve, Royal Delta should not be dismissed.
Pinch Pie is a three-year-old Victory Gallop filly trained by Tony Dutrow who will be taking a huge leap up in class when she faces the Alabama Stakes field on Saturday. Her forte so far has been turf racing where she has won two straight races, including her most recent triumph in the Desert Vixen Stakes on July 24th at Monmouth Park. Winless in three starts on the dirt, Pinch Pie enters off two four furlong works. In my humble opinion she will be lucky to finish in the top three.
[It's Tricky, Plum Pretty, St. John's River and Inglorious all rank in the Top Ten on HRN's 3-year-old filly rankings page; who will take control of the division after Saturday?]
It’s hard to say who the filly is to beat in this year’s Alabama Stakes as five of the six winners are so capable and talented. Wins by almost any filly in the field would give them a strong case for Champion three-year-old filly. It’s Tricky appears to be the logical choice off her two Grade 1 wins but Plum Pretty and St. John’s River also present very promising prospects. Inglorious would be the favorite any other day if it wasn’t for the fact that all of her wins have come on synthetic, but she is in the best form of her career. NBC will be telecasting the Alabama Stakes from 5-6 p.m. as a continuation of the Summer at Saratoga coverage, and this is one race you will not want to miss. Can Canada’s darling keep the string alive with her fourth consecutive win, or will one of the fillies from the powerful American contingent take the top prize?