It is Alabama weekend at Saratoga Race Course and a field of nine fillies will tackle the $600,000 Grade 1 feature on the main track on Saturday afternoon.
The mile-and-a-quarter race for 3-year-old fillies has attracted the top two finishers of the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan in addition to Chad Brown’s talented morning line favorite Dunbar Road (8-5).
Point of Honor (5-2), who won the epic stretch drive against Ulele (8-1) at Pimlico on Preakness weekend, finished second to the talented Guarana in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks earlier in the meet.
The talented daughter of Curlin has won three times, including a win in the Suncoast on Feb. 9 at Tampa Bay Downs. Her only off-the-board effort came in a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks back in March. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, a three-time Alabama winner, has the mount aboard Point of Honor.
Ulele came out of her second place finish in the Black-Eyed Susan to finish second fiddle again in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks to another Alabama entrant Lady Apple by a half length. Trained by the red-hot Brad Cox, the daughter of Candy Ride will have Joel Rosario in the irons.
Chad Brown sends forth Dunbar Road, while his other talented filly Guarana, the CCAO winner, will point to the Cotillion on Pennsylvania Derby day at Parx. The Mother Goose winner drew the rail and will have current meet leading rider Jose Ortiz aboard. The Quality Road filly will be looking to provide Brown with his first career win in the Alabama.
The 139th renewal of the Alabama is Race 10 on the 11-race card that will include the $100,000 Smart N Fancy, a 5 1/2-furlong sprint on the Mellon turf for fillies and mares, and the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Placid for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16-miles on the turf.
The race and the card will be broadcast live on FS2 from 1-7 p.m. in Buffalo on Saturday afternoon.
We’ll try to continue to build our bankroll after providing a cold Jim Dandy trifecta three weeks ago and two boxed trifectas in last weekend’s big races, the Fourstardave and the Saratoga Special.
Let’s take a look at the field from top to bottom (post position, trainer, jockey, morning line odds in parentheses, Race 10, post time 5:59 p.m.):
1 – Dunbar Road (Brown, Ortiz, 8-5). Peter Brant-owned filly is out of a Bernardini-sired dam and should relish the classic distance as the afternoon wanes at the Spa. Her only loss in four career starts was in the Gulfstream Park Oaks in March where she was wide most of the way losing a half-length to Champagne Anyone. Brown wants this one bad and has a big bullet in his holster. Dangerous.
2 – Lady Apple (Asmussen, Santana, Jr., 6-1). Iowa Oaks winner with connections that have fared well during the Spa meet to date. Third-place finisher in the Kentucky Oaks should not be discounted and being sired by the classic winner Curlin should carry her the added distance. Contender.
3 – Afleet Destiny (St. Louis, Salgado, 30-1). With only one win in 12 career starts and winless in her last seven, this Hard Spun filly will need to make a big step up to compete on Saturday. She’s been off the board against lesser rivals and the waters are much deeper here.
4 – Champagne Anyone (Wilkes, Landeros, 10-1). Daughter of Street Sense made a late move picking off contenders in the Kentucky Oaks to finish fourth after her win at Gulfstream over Dunbar Road. She didn’t bring her “A” game in the CCAO and the results showed. She’ll need a pace meltdown late to be a factor. Underneath in the exotics.
5 – Street Band (Jones, Doyle, 10-1). Trainer Larry Jones is a master with fillies and he shows up with the Indiana Oaks winner. Jockey Sophie Doyle will make her meet debut aboard the Istan filly out of a Street Cry mare. Jones wins 24% second off the layoff and his last Alabama win came in 2008 with Proud Spell. Never discount a Jones filly, it wouldn’t be a total shocker if she won.
6 – Ulele (Cox, Rosario, 8-1). The likely early speed for Cox who is winning at a 27% clip with horses shipping in. The question will be can she hang in the late going over 10 furlongs. If she’s not pressed early by Lady Apple, the possibility of her getting away improves greatly. Projecting her underneath due to a late fade.
7 – Point of Honor (Weaver, Castellano, 5-2). Hall of Famer Castellano retains the ride and has had a steady meet and usually shows up big in the major races. Was aboard for the second place finish in the CCAO and didn’t exactly have the best trip. Looks to be fit and ready to roll. Breeding suggests that the distance shouldn’t be an issue. In the mix.
8 – Off Topic (Pletcher, Franco, 10-1). Has yet to cross the wire first since her maiden win at Gulfstream last year. Pletcher is seeking his third Alabama title and will give Manny Franco a leg up aboard the daughter of Street Sense. Finished a solid third in the CCAO behind the undefeated Guarana and Point of Honor. The Pletcher/Franco combo is 0-for-18 in the last 60 days, enough said.
9 – Kelsey’s Cross (Biancone, Maragh, 15-1). After five straight starts on the turf, Biancone will take a shot with the daughter of Anthony’s Cross on the main. He’s a 15% trainer when making the surface switch and she could improve coming off a third place finish in the Saratoga Oaks. It’s a big leap of faith and this is a solid group of fillies. Sitting this one out.
Post Time Selections: 1 – Lady Apple; 2 – Dunbar Road; 3 – Point of Honor; 4 – Ulele.
On the Travers front, Bob Baffert pulled Game Winner out of consideration due to a spike in temperature. That’s a big blow to the race as he would have been a formidable challenger to the horses coming out of the Jim Dandy (Tacitus, Tax).
Ohio Derby winner Owendale is scheduled to arrive from Churchill Downs after his final scheduled work this weekend. On the heels of the Game Winner announcement, Haskell winner Maximum Security has also been pulled out of the Travers Trainer Jason Servis told Monmouth publicity that his horse is “not 100 percent” and will now point to the Pennsylvania Derby. The draw for the Travers is scheduled for next Tuesday evening.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.