With most of the big-name 3-year-old fillies on the sidelines or headed elsewhere, King of Prussia Stable's Princess of Sylmar will face only five foes in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 17 at Saratoga Race Course.
A victory in the 1 1/4-mile test would all but clinch an Eclipse Award for the Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Majestic Warrior, who is trained by Todd Pletcher.
There are still a number of big filly races on the schedule, but those are for 3-year-olds and up, and it would all but take a victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) against older fillies to put another 3-year-old female in the championship picture.
Princess of Sylmar has won four of her five starts this year, including victories in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), the latter by six widening lengths.
Earlier, she had scored victories in the Busanda and Busher Stakes over Aqueduct's inner track. Her only defeat came at the hand of Close Hatches in the Gazelle Stakes (gr. II).
Ed Stanco, owner of King of Prussia Stable, also bred Princess of Sylmar out of the Catienus mare Storm Dixie. She was foaled at Ronnie and Betsy Houghton's Sylmar Farm in Christiana, Pa.
If anyone thought Princess of Sylmar's 38-1 upset in the Kentucky Oaks was a fluke, doubts were eliminated with the runaway victory in the CCA Oaks.
"I think it changed in the (CCA) Oaks," Pletcher said. "She put any questions about her Kentucky Oaks victory to rest in there with a very strong performance. She's trained brilliantly since then. We hope she can repeat that type of effort in the Alabama. For a filly that has only lost one time since her debut, and coming off a win in the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club, she's established herself as the division leader."
Princess of Sylmar will break from post 4 and will have Javier Castellano aboard in the Alabama.
Princess of Sylmar has a major class edge in the Alabama, with the Bob Baffert-trained Fiftyshadesofhay her only opponent who has scored a graded stakes victory. She won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) and Iowa Oaks (gr. III) in her past two starts and the Santa Ysabel Stakes (gr. III) earlier in the year. The daughter of Pulpit also placed in the grade I Santa Anita Oaks and Las Virgenes Stakes. John Velazquez rides for the first time.
Of the others, the only filly with experience in graded stakes is Tell a Great Story, who breaks from the rail for trainer Ignacio Correas and owner Sagamore Farm. The daughter of Bluegrass Cat captured the listed Go For Wand Stakes at Delaware Park by a nose before finishing third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in the Delaware Oaks (gr. II). Jose Lezcano rides for the first time.
Kenny McPeek, who always seems to have someone in major stakes, will saddle the improving Montana Native, winner of her last two including a 3 1/2-length victory in the restricted Broom Dance Stakes at 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga. Junior Alvarado will ride the daughter of Yes It's True.
Darley Stable's Carnival Court, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, won a one-mile allowance/optional claimer by a neck at Saratoga in her last start after breaking her maiden by 12 3/4 lengths at Belmont Park in her second career start. The daughter of Street Sense gets Lasix for the first time and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. This is the same team that won last year's Alabama with Questing, who ran in the Godolphin colors.
"We're trying to hit the board," McLaughlin said. "With her pedigree, if we finished third in a grade I it would make her worth so much money. She's by Street Sense and is a half-sister to Royal Delta; that's why we're doing it. We think she wants that distance, and not every 3-year-old does. But she'll have to keep improving and have a good trip to be part of it."
Pletcher will also saddle Galloping Giraffe for Mike Repole. The daughter of Tapit finished a fast-closing second in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race last time out following an eight-length romp in a $65,000 claiming race. Rajiv Maragh has the mount.
"She's a very big filly who tends to drop way back in her races, so we feel like a mile and a quarter might suit her," said Pletcher. "Mike Repole is ambitious and doesn't mind taking a shot with some of his horses, so that's what we are doing with her."
$600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. 1, Race 10, approximate post 5:45 p.m. EDT), 3-Year-Old Filles, 1 1/4 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
1. Tell a Great Story (MD), J. Lezcano, I Correas, 12-1
2. Montana Native (KY), J. Alvarado, K McPeek, 10-1
3. Galloping Giraffe (KY), R. Maragh, T A Pletcher, 20-1
4. Princess of Sylmar (PA), J.J. Castellano, T A Pletcher, 3-5
5. Carnival Court (KY), I Ortiz Jr., K McLaughlin, 15-1
6. Fiftyshadesofhay (KY), J.R. Velazquez, B Baffert, 2-1
All carry 121 pounds.