The winner of the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course has gone on to be named champion 3-year-old filly in three of the past four years—Proud Spell in 2008, Blind Luck in 2010, and Royal Delta in 2011. With the division wide open midway through August, each of seven fillies entered in the 132nd edition of the 1 1/4-mile event seeks to strengthen her championship credentials with a victory Aug. 18.
"The 3-year-old filly division is a wide open door right now," said Tony Dutrow, trainer of 7-5 morning-line favorite Grace Hall. "There is a half-dozen fillies out there who have their name on the ballot right now, and with this field in the Alabama, the winner will have a bold statement toward that 3-year-old filly championship."
The $600,000 Alabama,10th on an 11-race card, has a scheduled post time of 5:46 p.m. EDT and will be presented live on the NBC Sports Network, which also will show the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) during a broadcast that will run from 5-6 p.m. EDT.
"The Alabama has been an iconic race for many, many, many years," said Dutrow, who conditions Grace Hall for Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and The Elkstone Group. "That's why it's such a tough race every year because everyone who has a promising 3-year-old filly circles the Alabama on their calendar to be ready to run a great race that day. The history and the tradition are nothing new, and it's something you expect to continue for many years to come."
The Alabama marks Grace Hall's return to the site of her lone grade I win to date, a score in last year's Spinaway. Her only loss as a 2-year-old was a runner-up performance to My Miss Aurelia in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
Grace Hall opened her 3-year-old season with a second in Davona Dale (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park in February, then drew off to a 6 1/2-length triumph in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) in March. Following a third as the 5-2 favorite in the Kentucky Oaks in May at Churchill Downs, she regained the winning thread with a 3 3/4-length victory under a hand ride in the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) on July 14.
"Grace Hall has been fantastic ever since she came into our barn in April of her 2-year-old year," said Dutrow. "She's been a machine; you just wind her up, and she ticks right along. There are never any hiccups, never any dull days, never any problems in any way at all. You can mark your chart for the whole year, and she just sticks to the beat. She has approached this race like she has approached all of her other ones: she's as fantastic as you could want her."
Javier Castellano has the mount aboard Grace Hall from post 3.
Last year, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and owner Godolphin Racing won the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) with It's Tricky, who returned to finish second in the Alabama. This year, McLaughlin and Godolphin look to sweep Saratoga's grade I races for 3-year-old fillies with Questing.
After racing primarily on turf earlier in her career, Questing posted a sharp 3 3/4-length win in an entry-level optional claimer when switched back to dirt on June 24 at Belmont Park. The performance inspired Questing's connections to have her step up in class for the Coaching Club American Oaks, and she responded with a resounding 4 1/4-length victory despite drifting out in the stretch.
"She has been doing great since the Coaching Club," said McLaughlin. "She's training well and is happy. Hopefully she can keep doing what she has been doing. We just have to hope she can repeat the performances she gave in her last two."
Irad Ortiz Jr., who also won the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) earlier this month, will once again ride Questing in the Alabama as he seeks his third grade I win of his career. Ortiz and Questing, the 5-2 second choice on the morning line, depart from post 6.
Live Oak Plantation's Zo Impressive, runner-up in the Coaching Club after winning the Mother Goose (gr. I) in June at Belmont, will look to turn the tables on Questing in the Alabama.
Trainer Tom Albertrani hopes the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Alabama, a distance none of the seven entrants have tried, will benefit Zo Impressive.
"It looked like she was finishing in the last eighth of a mile in the Coaching Club," the trainer noted. "She was gaining a little bit late in the race. Maybe that was from Questing starting to get tired and drifting out, but I don't see why she wouldn't go a little further. She's been very consistent; she's been 1-2 in all of her starts. Hopefully she'll run her race again."
Zo Impressive, 5-1, leaves post 2 with Rajiv Maragh aboard.
In Lingerie, who races for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber, rallied from seventh to win Pimlico's Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) in May, then was third, beaten 6 1/2 lengths, as the 3-2 favorite in the Coaching Club.
"After the Black-Eyed Susan, we kicked around the idea of running back in the Mother Goose, but it seemed like it was coming up a bit quick," said Pletcher. "We thought if we could get two runs into her at Saratoga, the mile and a quarter of the Alabama would suit her really well between her pedigree and how she ran at a mile and an eighth."
Pletcher said In Lingerie runs her best when she is able to make one long, sustained run, which is one of the reasons why he circled the Alabama on his calendar back in the spring.
"I think she is a filly who needs to be moving forward throughout the race," said Pletcher. "She kind of got stuck down inside and held up, and I don't think that's her running style. We hope for more of the kind of trip we got in the Black-Eyed Susan."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride In Lingerie, 6-1, from post seven.
The Alabama field also includes Phipps Stable's Sea Island, who was saddled to victory in a Saratoga optional claimer against older fillies and mares by Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey on July 26; Uptown Bertie, victorious in the Iowa Oaks (gr. III) on June 30 for trainer Steve Margolis and owners Richard, Bertram, and Elaine Klein; and Steve Beneto's Via Villaggio, a grade III winner who another Hall of Famer, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, sent to a runner-up finish to Grace Hall in the Delaware Oaks.
$600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, 5:46 p.m.), 3YO Fillies, 1 1/4 Miles
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Sea Island (KY), J. Rosario, C R McGaughey III, 12-1
2. Zo Impressive (KY), R. Maragh, T Albertrani, 5-1
3. Grace Hall (KY), J. Castellano, A W Dutrow, 7-5
4. Uptown Bertie (KY), C.J. Lanerie, S Margolis, 20-1
5. Via Villaggio (KY), C.S. Nakatani, J Hollendorfer, 8-1
6. Questing (GB), I. Ortiz, Jr., K P McLaughlin, 5-2
7. In Lingerie (KY), J.R. Velazquez, T A Pletcher, 6-1
All carry 121 pounds.