Head to Head: Handicapping the Alabama Stakes

Head to Head: Handicapping the Alabama Stakes
Photo: Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire

The Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes is a version of the Belmont Stakes for fillies. This might be the only time in their career that these 3-year-old fillies will stretch to 10 furlongs. The event is carded as race 10 Saturday at Saratoga, with a post time of 6:13 p.m. EDT.

With a 56 percent chance of rain later in the day, we handicapped the race for an off track.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast sort out the contenders from the pretenders.

ASHLEY

LAURIE

1. Crazy Beautiful

Crazy Beautiful has been crazy consistent for trainer Kenny McPeek. Her only out-of-the-exacta finishes came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Kentucky Oaks, where she faced all of the top fillies. Since checking in 10th in the Kentucky Oaks, Crazy Beautiful has won the Summer Oaks (G2) and the Delaware Oaks (G3). It will be interesting to see how she does with the Alabama distance of 1 1/4 miles since she has yet to race beyond 1 1/16 miles. Definitely use underneath.

Crazy Beautiful finished off the board only twice in her career, both Grade 1 events. She’s never run in the mud but won her last start over a good track. In addition, her half-siblings handled the off-going, and Liam’s Map is an excellent mud sire. Crazy Beautiful’s pedigree is geared toward miler speed. Although McPeek and Jose Ortiz paired to win the 2018 Alabama with long shot Eskimo Kisses, I don’t see the same result here. Fortunately, Crazy Beautiful gets to take the short way around the track, so perhaps she can maintain position and grab an exotics spot.

 

2. Will's Secret

Will’s Secret surprised us with a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks at double-digit odds. By the numbers, that was her career best, and she bounced badly in her next start, the Indiana Oaks (G3), in which she finished sixth as the favorite. Unfortunately, she’s facing much stiffer competition here, and I don’t think she has any more surprises up her leg wraps.

Will's Secret has twice seen the tail end of Malathaat, finishing third twice behind her. The Dallas Stewart trainee had no excuse in the Indiana Oaks. She had a rail trip the entire way but flatlined in the stretch. She finished sixth, bested 8 1/2 lengths. Although she may move up on a sloppy track, her speed figures and latest performance have me looking elsewhere. Pass.

 

3. Clairiere

Clairiere just missed the show in the Kentucky Oaks, getting nosed out by Will’s Secret. Since then, she has earned a pair of shows in the Mother Goose (G2) and the CCA Oaks (G1). In the Mother Goose, she stumbled at the break, while in the CCA Oaks she could not keep pace with Malathaat or Maracuja. This daughter of Curlin has never been worse than fourth in her career and is another you have to consider for your exotics.

 

Clairiere was three wide the entire way in the CCA Oaks, took first crack at Malathaat around the turn and stayed with her rival partway through the stretch before backing off to finish third. Although she never has encountered an off track, her sire Curlin is an excellent mud sire, and his offspring play well in the Saratoga mud. Exotics.

 

4. Maracuja

Maracuja turned in a career-best effort in the CCA Oaks (G1) to best the Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat and become the only filly to beat that rival. The question, of course, is can she do it again? If she continues to improve like she has (her speed figures have gone up with every start since February), then she certainly could upset the apple cart again. However, she could not get past Search Results in the Gazelle (G3) earlier in the year and was solidly beaten in the Kentucky Oaks. I think you can put a line through the Kentucky Oaks, however, since Maracuja was farther from the pace than she would have liked to have been. Unless you believe that she just really likes Saratoga, use underneath, but avoid the top spot.

 

Maracuja is a head-scratcher. She couldn’t beat Grade 3 competition three months ago, but last month shocked the CCA Oaks (G1). After dueling early with Malathaat, Ricardo Santana Jr. gave Maracuja a breather and dropped back to fourth place halfway down the backstretch. Maracuja gradually gained ground to win by a head over a softened Malathaat. The Rob Atras trainee earned a career-best 102 speed figure. The $600,000 question is whether she can maintain that form in the Alabama Stakes. I’m betting not.    

 

5. Played Hard

Played Hard is an interesting one to me. She has never been out of the trifecta in her career, but she got her picture taken for the first time only recently. This is where multiple variables come into play. When she broke her maiden on June 20, trainer Philip Bauer was stretching her out to two turns for the first time. He also switched from jockey Gabriel Saez to Tyler Gaffalione. She won that race by open lengths. She then won her next start, which was at Saratoga, by open lengths while improving her speed figure. Played Hard looks mighty dangerous at this 10-furlong distance. Her dam Well Lived is a full sister to Well Armed, the 2009 Dubai World Cup (G1) winner. The key will be to nurse her along on the front end as she dives into deep waters in her first graded attempt. Could be a live long shot.

 

On the plus side, Played Hard is ready to step up after winning her last two starts by a combined 10 lengths, and she has the second-highest late-pace figure of 105. Luis Saez’s mounts win dirt routes here at 40 percent, with 57 percent in the money. While Played Hard’s dam is a full sister to 2009 Dubai World Cup (G1) hero Well Armed, Into Mischief's offspring have distance limitations; only three out of 14 starters were successful at 10 furlongs. The three that tried the distance at Saratoga finished off the board. Additionally, Phil Bauer is 0-for-10 in graded stakes over the last five years. Although Played Hard beat very soft fields in her last two starts, none of her rivals have returned to hit the board. Pass.

 

6. Malathaat

Malathaat was the picture of perfection prior to the CCA Oaks (G1), where she lost by a head to an incredibly determined Maracuja. She is the only filly in the field to earn two triple-digit speed figures, let alone do it back-to-back. She is the heavy favorite for obvious reasons, but I think she will be vulnerable at the Alabama distance.

Malathaat suffered a heartbreaking head loss, the first of her career, in the CCA Oaks after setting the pace. Fortunately, she has tactical speed. The loss didn’t diminish her standing, and this classy filly, by Curlin out of a Grade 1-winning daughter of A. P. Indy, is bred to love 10 furlongs. She has the best mud pedigree in the field and has won over a sloppy track. Win contender.

 

7. Army Wife

Mike Maker skipped the Kentucky Oaks with Army Wife and went for the path of least resistance. That resulted in back-to-back wins in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and the Iowa Oaks (G3). She is a solid filly, but this is the most talented field she has faced thus far in her career. Another step forward gives her a fighting chance, but it will have to be a pretty big step.

Tyler Gaffalione paired with Swiss Skydiver to win last year’s Alabama Stakes. This year, he’s hoping the reunion with Army Wife will have the same result. The Mike Maker trainee easily beat Grade 2 and Grade 3 company in her last starts and should love the extra distance. Her sire Declaration of War is an above-average sire with 19 percent winners over off tracks. Worth an exotics look.  

 



Final thoughts

Ashley: First things first, let’s discuss Malathaat. The Kentucky Oaks heroine has a history of just getting the win, much like the famed Zenyatta. However, Malathaat does not come from the back of the field. Typically she is setting the pace or closely pressing it. She had to work hard in her last two races; she held off Search Results in the Kentucky Oaks, but after being continuously pressed by Clairiere in the CCA Oaks, Malathaat was unable to hold off Maracuja. I think that will be the key here as well, especially since everyone is stretching out to 1 1/4 miles for the first time.

I expect Played Hard to go straight to the front. Left alone there, I think she could spring the upset and take them gate-to-wire. A case can be made for Crazy Beautiful, Clairiere and Maracuja. I can imagine that I will be virtually sent to the gallows, but I’m going to go big or go home.


Laurie:
 The favorite has won or placed third in nine of the last 10 editions of the Alabama Stakes. Eight of the 10 winners prepped in the CCA Oaks.

Although I admire Ashley’s “Go big or go home” stance, and as much as it pains me to choose an even-money favorite on top, I see redemption for Malathaat. She’s the class of the field and has tactical speed. She can settle off Play Hard to her inside or farther back if necessary. While Played Hard might be lone speed, a few in here might push her early, and I don’t like her pedigree or trainer stats.

Crazy Beautiful might draft in behind Play Hard, with Clairiere, Maracuja and Army Wife in the mix, while Will's Secret will make a late run. Watch out for falling bridge jumpers!

SELECTIONS

          Ashley

        Laurie

#5 Played Hard (15-1)

#6 Malathaat (1-1)

#1 Crazy Beautiful (6-1)

#7 Army Wife (6-1)

#6 Malathaat (1-1)

#4 Maracuja (7-2)

#3 Clairiere (6-1)

#3 Clairiere (6-1)

 

 



Meet Laurie Ross


 HRN Pedigree Analyst 

 Handicapper 

 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB


Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 


I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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