Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's Embellish the Lace turned it around from her first time running at the highest level—a ninth-place finish in the June 27 Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I)—and took the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 22 at Saratoga Race Course all the way on the front end.
The 3-year-old Super Saver filly was confidently handled by jockey Javier Castellano in the 1 1/4-mile test, setting fractions of :24.06 and :48.38 through a half-mile before sprinting clear off the turn in the ield of seven. She finished in 2:01.97 on a fast track to pick up her first graded score for trainer Tony Dutrow. It was Dutrow's first victory in the Alabama, one of the oldest and most prestigious races for sophomore fillies which dates back to 1872.
"I always hoped of winning a race like that, and when it comes, it's just so gratifying, so humbling, so magical," Dutrow said. "And special is a great word which sums up all that."
Consistent fractions were key for Embellish the Lace, who was tracked by Curalina and Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Lovely Maria through three-quarters in 1:12.85 and a mile in 1:37.33 en route to victory.
"I didn't expect her to be on the lead, but nobody went," Castellano said. "We put up good numbers all the way, and it paid off. I thought there was more speed in the race but nobody wanted to go. I tried to rate a little bit the first turn, but nobody wanted to take it, so I took it. I knew they were coming, but the way she turned for home, I had so much confidence. When I asked her a little bit she took off. The one thing about her is she goes all day. She passed the wire and she galloped out strong."
Embellish the Lace, off at odds of 6-1, returned $14, $8, and $4.60. I'm a Chatterbox brought $5.90 and $3.50, while Curalina paid $2.50. Danette, Include Betty, Lovely Maria and Sweetgrass completed the order of finish.
"They got loose (on the lead)," said Larry Jones, trainer of I'm a Chatterbox and six-place finisher Lovely Maria. "(I'm a Chatterbox) kind of got put in tight and had to get back up on her feet at the start, so she started off a little farther back than we wanted. But she got a good trip. We were planning on being closer than we were. (Kerwin Clark aboard Lovely Maria) said he thought he was a winner turning for home; she just got a little tired."
Todd Pletcher said Curalina may have been tired after winning the Acorn (gr. I) and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) in back-to-back victories prior to this start. The Alabama was the first loss in five races dating back to March for the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners runner.
"I thought she ran well," Pletcher said. "I think she was maybe showing fatigue from tough races in the Acorn and the Coaching Club. It's always hard to come off of two big efforts like that. I thought she came up a little empty in the lane but she kept fighting despite that. We'll look to freshen her up a bit for the fall."
Meanwhile, Embellish the Lace should have plenty left in the tank for this season. Lightly raced, she won a Parx Racing maiden special weight at second asking Dec. 13 of last year, then was given time to mature before coming back June 4 of this season for just her third start to win an allowance at Pimlico Race Course.
Embellish the Lace was bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm out of the Distant View mare Expanse, and was a $320,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase from the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment. With only $53,340 in earnings to her name before the Alabama, she improved that number to $413,340 from three wins in five starts.