What is it about the Alabama Stakes that produces a fantastic race time and time again? It’s an anomaly in its 1 ¼-mile distance, for one—for most 3-year-old fillies, unless they’ve run in the Kentucky Derby, it marks the first time they will have stretched out past 1 1/8th-miles. Held at Saratoga in mid-August, the Grade I Alabama is like the filly version of the Travers. Somehow, the best of the crop usually find their way into the starting gates, and the crown of the division is decided in the final strides of the test.
The 2011 edition of the Alabama will go down as one of the most talent-packed in recent memory—and that says a lot. The winner of the Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks, It’s Tricky, is back to claim her title as the division leader over Plum Pretty, the Kentucky Oaks winner. Joining them will be the runner-up to Plum Pretty in that thrilling race, St. John’s River, who came back to win the Delaware Oaks in her most recent start. This set-up goes from dramatic to nuclear with the addition of Candian invader Inglorious, who most recently won her nation’s most historic race, the Grade I Queen’s Plate.
It’s Tricky, St. John’s River, and Inglorious are all entering the Alabama off impressive wins with very different running styles. It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty clawed each other’s eyeballs out in an epic edition of the Coaching Club American Oaks, and it wasn’t clear which filly would prevail until It’s Tricky ground down the Baffert trainee to win by ¾ of a length. It’s Tricky won the first two legs of the Triple Tiara with a sparse number of people on her bandwagon, but going into the third leg of the Filly Triple Crown, she should have a lot of support behind her. Her pedigree says she’ll handle the distance of the Alabama, and as she stands, she’s the one to beat.
Coming from out of the clouds, St. John’s River circled the Delaware Oaks field going 5-wide to nip the leader at the wire by a miraculous nostril. This filly puts in one tremendous run, and when she comes, holding her off is the only way to avoid defeat—in her last three losses, St. John’s River has never been beaten by more than half a length. With her deep-closing style, the Alabama should allow her to stretch out her legs, making her as dangerous as a keg of dynamite.
Inglorious is the only filly in the field to have run over the 1 ¼-mile distance of Alabama, and she did so winning against males in the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Not a bad coup for her resume, eh? She’s won her last three races, all going over Woodbine’s synthetic track; in fact, all of her five wins have come at Woodbine. Her two losses came at Fair Grounds over the dirt in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes and Grade III Fair Grounds Oaks, where she ran 2nd, and then 4th. The fact her worst placings have come over traditional dirt is a big question mark in the Alabama. Fair Grounds itself has the reputation of being a quirky track—horses who excel there tend to not do so well at other dirt tracks—so does that mean she will run better at the Spa, or possibly worse? Thus is the reason you’re likely to find a generous price on her.
Don’t count out Royal Delta, the sleeper in the Alabama. A winner of three out of five starts, including the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, she was a well-beaten third in the Coaching Club American Oaks, but stands a chance to bounce back big time here. Looking purely at stamina, the fact she’s by Belmont winner Empire Maker and out of an A.P. Indy mare makes her intruiging in this spot.
There isn’t a lot of speed in the Alabama, which may not set up for some of the closers like St. John’s River and Inglorious; but what it lacks in early speed will be made up in spades in the final stages. Saratoga’s old stands should begin to tremble when the field turns for home and the notches are let out in those fillies’ reins. With so many talented athletes in this race, it’s destined to be a brawl to the wire, with the survivor relishing in the glory of having won the most extreme of tests. Such a celebration of class is only appropriate to star in one of Saratoga’s marquee events.
The Grade I $500,000 Alabama Stakes will be broadcast live from Saratoga on NBC beginning at 5:00pm ET. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:45pm ET.