Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's homebred Elate turned in a breathtaking effort last out, but lost the advantage to Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Abel Tasman by a hard-fought head in the July 23 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1).
The 3-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly brought a better thrill to her connections Aug. 19 at Saratoga Race Course, where she turned in a dominant 5 1/2-length victory in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (G1).
Elate made easy work of pacesetter It Tiz Well after that one showed the field of nine through swift fractions of :23.46, :46.96, and 1:10.92. Jockey Jose Ortiz moved his mount into contention from fifth leaving the quarter pole, and swung four-wide around the far turn to take command at the head of the lane through a 1:35.87 mile.
From the top of the stretch to the finish line, Elate widened the distance until she was all alone at the wire under a strong hand ride. The final time for the 1 1/4-mile test on a fast track was 2:02.19.
In the Coaching Club American Oaks, Ortiz lodged an objection that was disallowed by the stewards after Abel Tasman and jockey Mike Smith put Elate in tight in the final strides.
"I feel like we could have won both, but we get away with one and we're very happy," Ortiz said. "She broke well and put me into a great position going into the first turn on the backside. When I got to the three-eighths pole, I felt I had a lot of horse underneath me. I just went along with her and as we entered the stretch, she really got going and I didn't look back. I kept riding. It's a grade 1 and I didn't want to look back for anybody. ... I'm glad that she won, because ever since the first day I got on her in the morning, we thought she was going to be a really nice filly."
It Tiz Well, ridden by Drayden Van Dyke, went off at 13-1 in her first start at the Alabama distance. The daughter of Arch finished a head in front of a hard-charging Salty for runner-up status, which marked the eighth time in nine starts she has hit the board.
"She broke sharp and I was on the lead, but I would have much rather her relax more than she did," Van Dyke said. "She never truly shut off and threw her ears up. If she would have relaxed for at least an eighth of a mile or more, she would have finished a lot better. The winner came in front of us and kind of shaded me a little bit in the stretch, but (It Tiz Well) tried hard and ran on again."
The order of finish was completed by Actress, New Money Honey, Lockdown, Mopotism, 4-1 favorite Holy Helena, and Unchained Melody. The latter was pulled up by jockey Joel Rosario, loaded onto the equine ambulance under her own power, and vanned off.
"I had to keep asking her to just hold my position and she was there and at one point, she wasn't," Rosario said. "Everybody was getting away from me. She was steady, just didn't want to do it. After that, I just had to pull her up and make sure she was OK. She was feeling fine physically. I don't know. She just got tired. I don't know what happened."
Elate, who returned $10.60, $6, and $4.20 as the 4-1 second choice, picked up her first graded stakes score in the top-level event. A third-generation homebred, she was produced in Kentucky out of the stakes-winning Distorted Humor mare Cheery, who is out of grade 2 winner and grade 1-placed Yell, herself a half to grade 1 winner Eastern Echo and multiple graded stakes winner Roar.
Elate improved her record to 3-3-1 from eight starts, for earnings of $530,325. She provided her sire with his second straight Alabama winner, as champion Songbird captured the 10-furlong contest in 2016 on her way to Eclipse Award honors.
"We gave her a little bit of time after she broke her maiden and we started cranking her up and getting her ready for the races, and it was just kind of like she really hadn't come alive yet," Mott said. "She was doing fine. Her works were good without being spectacular, and you could tell she was probably a filly that was going through a little bit of a growing stage, a development stage. We said then that she probably wouldn't be on her game for the Kentucky Oaks, that she was more of an Alabama filly, and that's exactly how it worked out.
"It was more of a forward type of race for her. It looks like the mile and a quarter is her type of trip. She finished well, she's got a nice burst of speed, and she stays on well."
The Alabama win was the first for Ortiz and third for Mott, who also took the race in 2005 with Sweet Symphony and in 2011 with Royal Delta.
"I just wanted the win for the filly and for the connections," the trainer said. "Ms. Dilschneider is such a great person. She's just a wonderful lady—one of the great women of the turf. You couldn't have a better owner. She loves her horses and she was looking forward to this as much as I was."