Saratoga Diary: Alabama Stakes Day
by Dick Powell
Torrential rain hit the Saratoga area last night after the races and turned the track into a muddy mess. The track crew worked relentlessly and the main track started out as muddy (harrowed). Four turf races were taken off but the Lake Placid Stakes (G2) stayed on the Mellon turf course, which was rated as soft.
A field of six was left to contest Race 1, a maiden $40,000 claimer run at 1 1/8 miles on the main track. ARCH OF THE DIVER was returning off a 700-day layoff and went to the front for Manny Franco. Shaking off all challengers, he poured it on around the far turn won by an improbable 9 1/2 lengths for Graham Motion, who was getting off the duck. Arch of the Diver’s final time of 1:51.41 was pretty fast considering some of the other races.
Race 2 was a seven-furlong dirt sprint for juveniles that was taken off the turf and run on the main track, which was upgraded to good. Chad Brown’s STANDARD DEVIATION looked to struggle a bit on the far turn but the 1-2 favorite was too much for this group and won by almost three lengths over the longest price on the board, Vineyard Sound.
Race 3 was another example of the track being listed as fast on the toteboard but still good in the chart. Not sure why this keeps happening. It looked like Jose Ortiz was aboard the controlling speed of Nigel’s Destiny, but when he broke out at the start of the seven-furlong sprint for $50,000 claimers, Irad Ortiz Jr. sent J S BACH to the front. He dueled with Fundy’s Tide and took over turning for home to win as the 3-1 second choice. Jason Servis is not compiling the numbers he had at Belmont Park but is now eight-for-26 at the meet. Helooksthepart rallied from way back and won the three-way photo for second by a nose.
Race 4 was the first division of a maiden special weight for juveniles and the public made Chad Brown’s Ahead of Plan the 7-5 favorite. He gunned to the front and was pressed hard by Todd Pletcher’s Principled. Those two battled to the top of the stretch and Ahead of Plan surged to a two-length lead. But rallying with giant strides was ENDORSED, who made up ground with every stride to win by a measured neck. The final time of 1:11.22 was an indication of how slow the drying out track was and not the horses.
Race 5 was a plain $40,000 claimer for three-year-old fillies. Gary Contessa’s barn is going well but his ELIZABETH NICOLE was dismissed at 20-1. She dueled down on the inside and, when it looked like she had enough, she found another gear to draw off for a 2 3/4-length win with Dylan Davis aboard. The time for the six furlongs was 1:13.46 and that was with the wind at their back through the stretch.
Race 6 was the second division of the maiden special weight for juveniles and the main track was listed as fast in the charts. Many good-looking colts were entered, including a chestnut son of Tapit and a gray son of Medaglia d’Oro. Up until now, sire Noble Mission has mostly been known as the mighty Frankel’s full brother. Noble Mission’s first crop to race have been a bit slow to come around, but son CODE OF HONOR went off as the third choice of the bettors in this one. However, they could not bet enough on Mark Casse’s second-time starter, Wild Medagliad’oro, and sent him off as the overbet 4-5 favorite. Johnny Velazquez gunned Code of Honor to the front and he never looked back to hold off the favorite by 1 1/2 lengths. It was Shug McGaughey’s seventh win of the meet from only 24 starters.
Race 7 came off the turf and the first-level New York-bred allowance fillies and mares contested it at seven furlongs. A field of six was left after the scratches and Mark Hennig’s CARTWHEEL won it as much the best. Jose Lezcano gunned her to the lead from post 5 and she kept widening her margin to the wire. The final tally was officially 13 3/4 lengths and the time of 1:25.30 was good enough. Doesn’t say much for the rest of the field and as we saw all day, speed did extremely well but the final times were very slow.
Race 8 was the Lake Placid Stakes (G2) going 1 1/8 miles on the Mellon turf course listed as soft. RUSHING FALL scratched out of the Lake George Stakes (G3) a month ago with a fever but, even if she wasn’t 100 percent today, it was more than enough. She was Chad Brown’s 28th win of the meet in day number 26. It was also Javier Castellano’s 29th win of the meet and keeps him in shouting distance of leading rider Irad Ortiz’s 37.
The Alabama Stakes (G1) was run for the 138th time and who would have expected Rodolphe Brisset’s Talk Veuve to Me to go :22.52 for the first quarter of the 10-furlong historic race for three-year-old fillies? She’s a Julie pressed her and Figarella’s Queen was three wide through a first half mile in :46.79. Even though speed did well for the early part of the day, this was a blistering pace for the three who were involved and they paid dearly for it. Mike Smith was the first to pounce aboard Midnight Bisou and they loomed boldly at the top of the stretch, but Jose Ortiz sent ESKIMO KISSES through an opening down on the inside turning for home and she exploded to a nice win at 9-1. She’s a Julie held on to be a distant second and Midnight Bisou was third. Ortiz’s decision to stay on the inside and not tip out turning for home was the difference in the race.
On Sunday, Race 2 is a maiden special weight going six furlongs for three-year-olds and up. TIMBER GHOST (#7) was well-bet in both starts this winter at Gulfstream Park and returns off a 168-day layoff for Jimmy Jerkens. He is training bullets for this and the son of Ghostzapper draws perfectly towards the outside.