With regular rider Javier Castellano aboard, the 6-5 favorite Pine Island split horses on the final turn and closed resolutely on the front-running Teammate in the stretch to win the prestigious race going away by 1 1/4 lengths. She completed the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:02 4/5 on a fast track for her first graded stakes win.
"No matter what, I wanted to make one big run with her," Castellano said. "She's a big filly with a long stride."
Trainer Shug McGaughey, who won his fourth Alabama, had thrown Pine Island into Belmont Park's Mother Goose (gr. I) and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) last month after just two starts, but the Phipps Stable's homebred daughter of Arch--Matlacha Pass (Seeking the Gold) had not been overmatched. She closed strongly in both races to miss by less than a length both times. McGaughey felt the 10-furlong distance around two turns at Saratoga – which has played well to closers in route races this season – would play to the filly's strengths.
"She should have a big future in front of her," said McGaughey, who last won the Alabama in 1994 with Heavenly Prize. "This was her best race, and there are still things to learn. I threw her to the wolves quick and ran her in grade one in her third, fourth and fifth start. That's really not my style."
McGaughey said he would consider the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle (gr. I) at Belmont Park Sept. 9 for Pine Island, who could get a rematch with Mother Goose winner Bushfire there.
Breaking from the inside post in the field of nine, Castellano was able to sit near the rear of the pack early while moving up along the inside and then shifting outward. She angled back to the inside approaching the far turn, then switched out to find room between horses coming off the turn. The outsider Teammate, who had shaken off early pacesetter Pyramid Love as well as Ex Caelis and grade I winner Wonder Lady Anne L to lead by about three lengths in the stretch, could not hold on for Cornelio Velasquez. She finished a clear second by 8 1/2 lengths over Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Lemons Forever, who made a menacing move while six wide on the final turn to loom as a possible upsetter but flattened out under Mark Guidry.
"(Castellano) had to weave his way around the turn a little bit, which concerned me a bit," McGaughey said. "But when she got in the clear, I thought she had one horse to run down. I thought she kicked hard the last part of it.
"I was glad when she shook clear of the field because I knew she could hit her best stride. She is so big, and if there are horses around her, I'm not sure she can get into the flow like she did today."
Fractions were solid for a tiring track – :23 2/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 4/5 after six furlongs – as Teammate took control of the pace and began to edge away on the final turn.
Pine Island avoided serious trouble – she stumbled in the 1 1/8-mile Mother Goose and suffered a wide trip on a muddy track in the 1 1/4-mile Coaching Club – in winning for the third time in five starts. She has not been worse than second. She earned $360,000 Saturday and has now banked $516,800 in her brief career.
She paid $4.30, $3.20 and $2.50. Teammate returned $11.20 and $7.60. Lemons Forever was $5 to show.
Unbridled Belle finished fourth, followed by Adieu, Wonder Lady Anne L, Miss shop, Ex Caelis and Pyramid Love.
Earlier in the day, Finlandia won the $100,000 Yaddo Handicap under Kent Desormeaux. Tucked just behind the leaders from the start, the 4-year-old daughter of Royal Anthem made her move off the far turn and withstood a late run from Sabellina to earn her fourth career win in 14 starts.
Sent out by trainer Thomas Bush, Finlandia ran 1 1/8 miles on the turf in 1:48.70 for Nyala Farm. She paid $9.90, $4.30, and $3.10, while Sabellina paid $3.40 and $2.80 to place under Javier Castellano. Elisas Energy paid $3.70 to show with Edgar Prado.