Marylou Whitney Stable's Bird Town established herself as a leader in the 3-year-old filly division this spring wirh wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn, both grade I's.
Rested since her hard-fought victory in the one-mile Acorn at Belmont Park, Bird Town makes her Saratoga debut Saturday in the Grade 1, $250,000 Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs.
Bird Town might not have raced at Saratoga yet, but her owner is a famed local socialite and the filly herself has trained here for Nick Zito since the Oklahoma training track opened in May.
After winning the Acorn, Zito and Whitney opted to pass the chance at a $2 million bonus for sweeping the Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama in the revamped Triple Tiara series. They instead opted to point for the Grade 1, $750,000 Alabama at 10 furlongs, using the Test as springboard.
Earlier in the spring, Bird Town won the seven-furlong Beaumont at Keeneland in the start prior to her winning the Kentucky Oaks.
"This is the way we wanted to do it because this is the way we did it going into the Oaks," Zito said before saddling El Prado Rob to victory in the third race on Wednesday's Opening Day of Saratoga's 135th season. "We had to run in the Acorn or Mother Goose, but didn't want to run in both of them and we didn't want to run her a mile and a half [in the CCA Oaks}. So, this is how we had to do it."
The Alabama will be a huge race for Bird Town and the 3-year-old filly division. Spoken Fur, who won the first two legs of the Triple Tiara will be looking to secure that lofty bonus, while Bird Town will try to prevent the bonus from being paid. The winner of the Alabama will be a heavy favorite to named champion 3-year-old filly.
As important as the Alabama is, Zito is taking nothing for granted in the Test.
"The Test is one of the most revered races around," Zito said. "We're absolutely not taking it lightly. It's always a tough, hard race. Hopefully, she gets through it and has three good weeks into the Alabama. Spoken Fur has won those two races and obviously she looks like a special filly and she'll only have one week on us as far as the rest period is concerned. There shouldn't be any excuse on our part."
Heiligbrodt Racing Stable's Lady Tak only lost to Bird Town by a head in the Acorn after finishing eight lengths behind her in the Kentucky Oaks. Steve Asmussen is the trainer of Lady Tak.
Debuting last fall, Lady Tak won her first five starts, including the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. Since then, she is winless in three starts and Asmussen would love for her to break that slump at Saratoga in the Test.
"We feel very good about her coming into this race," said Asmussen. "Off the Acorn I felt this would be the best way for her to win the Test. I feel that seven-eighths suits her well and this will be a great opportunity."
Lady Tak, who has placed in Grade I races in the past, is in search of her first Grade I win.
"She's a very fast filly and the Test being the race that it is, a Grade 1 at Saratoga, in our minds it would be a very good spot to show her off," Asmussen said. "She's an extremely talented filly who has accepted a lot of challenge in a positive way. She went from all speed to settling and becoming a very manageable filly."
G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s Final Round finished a length behind Bird Town and Lady Tak in the Acorn. Since then, she returned to finish third in the Mother Goose at nine furlongs.
"I don't think the distance was the problem in the Mother Goose," trainer George "Rusty" Arnold said. "She didn't have the greatest trips in both those races. She's been forced wide and forced to move early."
For Arnold and Final Round, the Test is somewhat of an unexpected appearance.
"We thought about bringing her up here and training her to the Gazelle in the fall," Arnold said. "But she got to acting so great and working great that when Mr. Humphrey and I talked it over, we figured it was worth trying."
Humphrey and Arnold won the 2001 Test with Victory Ride and would love to get a second win with Final Round.
"It would be a thrill," Arnold said. "She's not a Grade 1 winner, so anytime you can win a Grade 1, that's great."
Contesting the top three Acorn finishers are the top two runners from the Grade 1 Prioress. House Party was beaten in the Acorn, her only loss in her last four races. She scored in the Legal Light, Nassau County and Prioress recently for trainer H. Allen Jerkens and owner Joseph Shields Jr.
Peachtree Stable's Chimichurri is winless in five starts since taking the Tempted last fall. The Todd Pletcher trainee finished behind House Party in the Prioress.
The field for Saturday's Grade 1 Test:
PP. HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY WGT.
1. Halory Leight Dale Romans Shane Sellers 116
2. Lady Tak Steve Asmussen Jerry Bailey 122
3. Molto Vita Dallas Stewart Eibar Coa 116
4. Final Round George Arnold Pat Day 120
5. Chimchurri Todd Pletcher JohnVelazquez 118
6. House Party Allen Jerkens Jose Santos 122
7. Country Romance D. Wayne Lukas Cornelio Velasquez 116
8. Bird Town Nick Zito Edgar Prado 122