The halfway mark at Saratoga has passed and we’re into week five of the annual 40-day meeting. The spotlight will soon focus on next week’s Travers Stakes, the feature race of the racing hotbed that sits at the foot of the Adirondacks.
It is Alabama weekend at the Spa and a field of eight will tackle the Grade 1 $600,000 mile-and-a-quarter trek around the Saratoga main track. There’s no Wonder Gadot (Travers bound) or Monomoy Girl (Cotillion bound), but a lively group nonetheless will try and win the biggest 3-year-old filly race on the Spa calendar.
Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bisou (7-5), second to Monomoy Girl in the Coaching Club American Oaks (CCAO), is your morning line favorite. Asmussen will also saddle She’s a Julie, the Iowa Oaks winner late Saturday evening, looking for his first ever win in the Alabama.
Asmussen is high on Midnight Bisou’s chances in the favorite role. "The filly has consistently done extremely well and we're obviously very excited about her chances," said Asmussen to the NYRA Press office.
Hall of Famer Mike Smith will ship in to ride the daughter of Midnight Lute on Saturday afternoon, his second cross-county visit to Saratoga to ride Bisou. He will be looking for his sixth career win in the race to break a three-way tie with Jorge Velasquez and Jerry Bailey.
The main challenge will come from Talk Veuve to Me, trained and co-owned by Rodolfe Brisset. "We can't be overconfident, [but] you look at the numbers, the replays and the PPs, and we're right there," said Brisset, who co-owns Talk Veuve to Me with Team Valor International and Stephen McKay.
The 138th running of the Alabama, carded as Race 9, will be joined by the Grade 2, $300,000 Lake Placid on Saturday's edition of Saratoga Live presented by Claiborne Farm, airing on FS2 in Buffalo from 2 - 6:30 p.m. ET.
Let’s take a look at the field from top to bottom (post position, trainer, jockey, morning line odds in parentheses, post time 6:49 p.m.):
1 – Piedi Bianchi (Pletcher, Velazquez, 15-1). Daughter of Overanalyze supplemented into the race and comes out of an allowance race where she finished third. Seems a bit up against it against this crew based on class alone. She only has a maiden win on her resume and would have to run the race of her life on Saturday. You can’t beat the connections, but you can beat this horse. There’s also an outside chance that she will scratch as she is cross-entered in a race on Thursday afternoon.
2 – Eskimo Kisses (McPeek, Ortiz, 6-1). Solid filly by To Honor and Serve who has not disappointed in any race this year. Fourth in the Kentucky Oaks and the CCAO and second in a couple of Oaks prep races. McPeek has surprised here at Saratoga on the big days before and Jose Ortiz could explode at any minute. In the mix.
3 – Midnight Bisou (Asmussen, Smith, 7-5). Favorite ran second in the local prep and has arguably the best jockey in North America aboard. Questions linger about the classic distance, but it’s her race to lose. Have to take a shot against her here but she won’t give up without a fight.
4 – She’s a Julie (Asmussen, Santana, Jr., 9-2). Elusive Quality filly has strung a nice stretch of races together and has some stamina on the dam side to warrant a harder look. The connections have been rolling at a 25 percent winning clip in the last 60 days and have set the track on fire together. Impressive win in the Iowa Oaks coming into the race and workouts show she is sharp. Contender.
5 – Auspicious Babe (Stewart, Geroux, 30-1). Lightly-raced Bodemeister filly will be on the front end for Dallas Stewart. If it comes up wet, she’s one to consider as speed on the front end. Pretty big stretch out in her fourth career race, however, so we’ll be looking elsewhere.
6 – Figarella’s Queen (Cox, Ortiz, Jr., 15-1). Cox-trained filly by Medaglia d’Oro, like Auspicious Babe, will need to step up her game as the speed figures don’t quite match up with the classier horses in the race. Was second to the outside horse in the Indiana Oaks, but was never a threat to the winner. Pass.
7 – Coach Rocks (Romans, Saez, 10-1). Oxbow filly sports a couple of runner-ups to the talented Red Ruby in her last two efforts by a combined 17 ¾-lengths. Hasn’t seen the winner’s circle since Gulfstream in March. While she should get the distance she seems a cut below the cream of this crop.
8 – Talk Veuve to Me (Brisset, Leparoux, 5-2). Violence filly won impressively at Indiana Grand and ran a huge second to Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Leparoux, while he has struggled the entire meet, is due for a big race. Filly has never been out of the exacta in five career races. The pick.
Outlook: Trying to beat the favorite who has some question marks at the classic distance. Talk Veuve to Me’s numbers match up with Bisou and she shouldn’t have issues with the trip from her outside post. She’s a Julie comes in sharp and Eskimo Kisses will be a player in the exotics.
Post Time Selections: 1 – Talk Veuve to Me; 2 – Midnight Bisou; 3 – She’s a Julie; 4 – Eskimo Kisses
In Breeders’ Cup news, on Friday the sites for the next three years were announced. Santa Anita Park will host the 2019 Cup, Keeneland Racecourse in 2020 in Lexington and a return to California and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in 2021. This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2-3.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.