Heading into Saturday's $750,000 Alabama (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course, the question on everyone's mind is if the real Sis City will stand up and win the final leg of the New York Racing Association's Triple Tiara for 3-year-old fillies.
The first two legs of the Triple Tiara-- Mother Goose (gr. I) and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I)-- were won by Phipps' Stable homebred Smuggler who is not starting in the Alabama after missing training time due to a fever. Also absent from the list of starters due to injury is Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Summerly, who finished third in the Mother Goose and second in the CCA Oaks.
Sis City was impressive earlier this year, winning the Davona Dale (gr. II) and Ashland (gr. I) by double-digit margins. Those wins helped send her off as the 3-5 favorite in the Kentucky Oaks where she faded to finish fourth.
After the trip to Churchill Downs, trainer Richard Dutrow opted to give the daughter of Slew City Slew
some time off.
She made her return to the track in the July 16 Delaware Oaks (gr. II) where she finished fourth, beaten 14 3/4 lengths.
Dutrow said Sis City had issues in the starting gate prior to both races. In order to correct those problems, the trainer has sent Sis City to work with former New York Racing Association starter Bob Duncan.
"We've been getting a whole lot of gate work in her," Dutrow said. "The last two times I've seen her in the gate at Kentucky and Delaware, she was just not happy. Bob Duncan has been working with this filly for the last couple of weeks and he's got her in his pocket. I'm hoping when we put her in the gate, she stands as quiet as a mouse and if she does, I'm sure she'll run her race."
The trainer, who conditions the filly for majority owner Stonerside Stables, said the starting gate hasn't been Sis City's only issue as of late. "She didn't come out of her race (Delaware Oaks) the way that we wanted her to, but she's come around the right way," he said. "She's done good since she's been up here."
Sis City has little room for error in a competitive Alabama, which includes the first and third finishers from the Delaware Oaks and Black Eyed Susan (gr. II) winner Spun Sugar.
Spun Sugar, owned by Stronach Stables and trained by Todd Pletcher, runs well in every spot and enters the race off a near-miss second in the Mother Goose and a strong third in the CCA Oaks.
Judging from Spun Sugar's running line in the 10-furlong CCA Oaks, it may appear that she does not want to run this far. Near the pace throughout the CCA Oaks, the Awesome Again
filly weakened to third, but was only beaten 3 1/2 lengths. With a different trip, 1 1/4 miles might be well within her reach.
"Her best running style is to be in a stalking-type position," Pletcher said. "Unfortunately, the way it's worked out the last couple of times, we weren't able to do that. If we adjust her trip, she's got a chance."
Pletcher likes his filly's consistency, but also has much respect for Sis City.
"If Sis City comes back and runs her A-race like she was prior to the Kentucky Oaks, she's probably the filly to beat," he said. "If she doesn't fire one of those races, then I think Spun Sugar is the one to beat. Spun Sugar has never let me down at any time."
While Sis City and Spun Sugar are expected to attract a lot of attention at the betting windows, R Lady Joy and Dance Away Capote are not to be overlooked.
R Lady Joy will be looking to prove her 17-1 win in the Delaware Oaks was not a fluke and Dance Away Capote, who finished third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths in Delaware over a sloppy track, will be looking to make an impressive showing in her first start in the Empire State.
"The key to getting a 1 1/4 mile is going to be the one that relaxes the best and that won't be the issue for her," said Graham Motion, who conditions Dance Away Capote for Pandora Stables. "I think she ran a big race at Delaware. She had to come a little wide and that might have cost her second. She's not a whole lot to look at but she's tough as nails."
The field for Saturday's $750,000 Alabama (gr. I) includes:
1-- R Lady Joy (Jose Lezcano)
2-- Sweet Symphony (Jerry Bailey)
3-- Ready and Alluring (Javier Castellano)
4-- Sis City (Edgar Prado)
5-- Dance Away Capote (Ramon Dominguez)
6-- For All We Know (Gary Stevens)
7-- Spun Sugar (John Velazquez)