Questing (GB) turned in a dazzling performance to take command of the 3-year-old filly division Aug. 18 with a front-running tour de force in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course, blazing the first half-mile in :46.01 and still pulling away to take the 1 1/4-mile test by nine lengths (VIDEO).
"She's definitely the best 3-year-old filly in America on the dirt," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.
Sent off as the 2-1 second choice after Delaware Oaks (gr. I) winner Grace Hall (11-10), Questing broke on top and showed the way through a quarter in :22.84 before ticking off her fast half-mile. She maintained that speed for three quarters in 1:09.74. Grace Hall and Zo Impressive tracked along in second and third but never got close. When In Lingerie launched her run at the leader after three-quarters, Questing refuted the challenge by shaking clear turning for home.
The 3-year-old Hard Spun filly drifted out in the lane after a mile in 1:35.06 but was kept to the task by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who partnered with Questing to win their second grade I in a row; the duo took the July 21 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) last time out. The final time for the Alabama was a swift 2:01.29, fastest in the race since Love Sign won the 1980 edition in 2:01, according to the New York Racing Association.
In Lingerie was second and Via Villaggio finished 17 lengths behind the winner in third. Grace Hall was fifth behind Zo Impressive in the field of seven 3-year-old fillies. Sea Island and Uptown Bertie completed the order of finish.
"I was thinking the pace was too fast, but I liked the way she was doing it," said McLaughlin of Questing's performance. "I looked behind her, and a lot of them were riding hard to keep up. I was nervous about the fractions, but she was doing it the right way."
Questing, who races for Godolphin and was bred in Great Britain by Darley, is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Chercheuse. She paid $6.40, $4.40, and $3.50. In Lingerie returned $5.60 and $4, while Via Villaggio paid $5.70.
"She was going fast, but she was so relaxed," said Ortiz. "I kept my hands down, and she was moving so easily. She was just galloping. Her ears were up and she was playing with her ears. She was amazing. I never rode one like that."
As of June, Questing was eligible for the first allowance condition. She placed in a pair of group III races on turf in England for trainer John Gosden as a 2-year-old before finishing fifth in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) in her dirt and North American debut. Transferred to McLaughlin's barn following the Breeders' Cup, she was fourth and fifth in a pair of optional claimers on turf this spring before her connections decided to switch her back to the dirt.
The move paid off as Questing rolled to a 3 3/4-length optional claiming score on June 24 at Belmont Park, then posted a 4 1/4-length triumph, despite drifting out, in the CCA Oaks July 21 at Saratoga. The Alabama win improved her record to 4-1-1 from nine starts, with earnings of $674,876.
"She's a special filly," said McLaughlin. "I'm glad we have her on dirt here in North America and that we tried her on it. She could have won today going a mile and a half."
Questing gave Ortiz, 20, the first grade I victory of his young career in the CCA Oaks. The Alabama was his third grade I win; between trips to the winner's circle on the Godolphin filly, he rode 36-1 shot Poseidon's Warrior to victory in the Aug. 5 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I).
Zo Impressive, who finished fourth, was vanned off after sustaining a fracture to the right front cannon bone.
"It was what we describe as a lateral condylar fracture; that is the bone above the ankle," said Celeste Kunz, on-call veterinarian with the American Association of Equine Practitioners. "It was obvious that it was displaced, but it did not fracture the skin. A compression boot was put on, which fits and looks like a ski boot and contains that fracture.
"She was put on the horse ambulance and vanned back to her barn, where Dr. (James) Hunt was going to take X-rays to see the extent of the injury," Kunz continued. "It is a career-threatening injury depending on the extent of the fracture and if any other bones were involved, but it does not appear life-threatening at this point. She was able to walk off the ambulance."