By Gene Kershner
Things start to heat up in Saratoga Springs this weekend as the first of the two marquee weekends at the Spa gets underway with the 132nd running of the Alabama Stakes on Saturday. The one-and-a-quarter mile Grade 1 race for 3-year-old fillies could loom large in deciding this year’s champion within this division. Three of the past four winners of the race have emerged as the Champion 3-year-old Filly.
The race features the winners of the Grade 1 Mother Goose (Zo Impressive), the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks and Grade 2 Delaware Oaks (Grace Hall), the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks (Uptown Bertie), the Grade 3 Railbird (Via Villagio), the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks (Questing) and the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan (In Lingerie). There is no shortage of quality horses in the race and this will set one filly apart from the others as the season unwinds.
The race will be telecast on the NBC Sports Network (5 p.m. ET), which will also show the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational during the live broadcast. The $600,000 Alabama has a scheduled post time of 5:46 p.m.
The $1 million Travers field is starting to shape up and it could be one of the largest fields in its long history. Currently scheduled to run are Alpha, Atigun, Cogito, Five Sixteen, Hansen, Liaison, Neck ‘n Neck, Nonios, Stealcase and Street Life. Those on the fence and currently questionable include Fast Falcon, Quick Wit and Teeth of the Dog.
The last time 14 colts went postward in the Travers was 1977. The largest field in recent years was in 2008 when Colonel John edged out Mambo in Seattle at the wire.
Next weekend’s $500,000 King’s Bishop, the biggest sprint race at the meet for 3-year-olds is also shaping up to be a huge race with Currency Swap, Doctor Chit, Fort Loudon and Trinniberg all probable starters. The $500,000 Test for 3-year-old fillies will feature the second start of the year for My Miss Aurelia, last year’s 2-year-old filly champion, who will square off against Prioress winner Emma’s Encore.
This weekend’s Alabama Stakes features seven 3-year-old fillies as follows (trainer, jockey, odds in parenthesis):
1 – Sea Island (McGaughey, Rosario, 12-1) Shug McGaughey-trained filly was fourth in the Grade 3 Victory Ride at Belmont and came back to win an optional claimer at the Spa during the second weekend of the meet. She appears to be overmatched by the likes of the opponents in here.
2 – Zo Impressive (Albertrani, Maragh, 5-1) Hard Spun filly has been not been out of the exacta in six career races and should definitely be considered in all exotics plays. The added distance may be the answer for Zo Impressive according to trainer Tom Albertrani. “It looked like she was finishing in the last eighth of a mile in the Coaching Club. She was gaining a bit late in the race. Maybe that was from [Questing] starting to get tired and drifting out, but I don’t see why she wouldn’t go a little further.”
3 – Grace Hall (A. Dutrow, Castellano, 7-5) The morning line favorite is coming off an impressive victory in the Delaware Oaks, after finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks. Javier Castellano retains the mount for Anthony Dutrow who is 30 percent second off the layoff and 30 percent with shippers. The Empire Maker filly has some serious route pedigree in her blood and should love the added distance on Saturday. The one to beat.
4 – Uptown Bertie (Margolis, Lanerie, 20-1) Ships in from the Midwest after an impressive victory at Prairie Meadows in the Iowa Oaks. She steps up in class taking on these fillies and at best will fill the superfecta.
5 – Via Villaggio (Hollendorfer, Nakatani, 8-1) Second to Grace Hall in the Delaware Oaks, this Bernardini filly tries her second East coast graded stake after spending her entire career on the left coast. Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer isn’t shy about giving his horses’ opportunities to shine, but it looks like she may be up against it on Saturday.
6 – Questing (McLaughlin, Ortiz, 5-2). McLaughlin will be looking to complete his second straight Saratoga sweep of the 3-year-old filly races. Last year he swept both the Coaching Club and Alabama with It’s Tricky and he’ll try to do the same with Questing. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. will look to win his third Grade 1 of the meet aboard Questing who is ready to roll according to her trainer. “She has been doing great since the Coaching Club, “ said McLaughlin. “She’s training well and is happy. Hopefully she can keep doing what she has been doing. We just have to hope she can repeat the performances she gave in her last two.”
7 – In Lingerie (Pletcher, Velazquez, 6-1). The dangerous Saratoga combination of Pletcher/Velazquez is red-hot at Saratoga winning 38 percent of their races over the past two weeks as of Wednesday. The Black-Eyed Susan winner finished third in the Coaching Club and should be good value at the windows if she stays anywhere around her morning line. The outside post should help her according to Pletcher, the current leading trainer at the meet. “She kind of got stuck down inside and held up, and I don’t think that’s her running style. We hope for more of the kind of trip we got in the Black-Eyed Susan.”
Post Time Outlook: The race should be extremely competitive and we like how McLaughlin has had his horses ready for the big races at Saratoga, so we’ll go with Questing to complete the sweep.
1 – Questing; 2 – Zo Impressive; and 3 – Grace Hall