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Homeracing

Test no longer an Alabama prep but still features fast fillies

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TwinSpires Staff

August 3rd, 2017

by Dick Powell

As time goes by, I keep sounding more and more like the “Old Guy” but sometimes the shoe fits.

When Saratoga was a 24-day meet, Opening Day was usually the first Wednesday in August. Without racing for 48 weeks, it was usually super crowded. But Thursday was always a much smaller crowd, easier to get around and watch horses in the paddock while still having enough time to get a bet in. For many of us, it was the best day to be at Saratoga.

The first Thursday of the Saratoga meet also was the running of the Test Stakes (G1) for 3YO fillies going seven furlongs on the dirt. It usually attracted a host of female sprinters so fast fillies were what you went to see.

Now, here’s the old guy part and it’s not the 24-day meet. The Test was used as a prep race for the 10-furlong Alabama Stakes (G1) 10 days later in the meet. Remember, the old Saratoga was defined by four Saturdays: Whitney, Alabama, Travers and Hopeful. And yes, back in the good old days, some fillies prepped for a 10-furlong two-turn race with a seven-furlong sprint 10 days earlier.

LOVE SIGN (Spanish Riddle) won the Test Stakes in 1980 and came right back to win the Alabama. MOM’S COMMAND (Top Command) tried to do it five years later but was beaten in the Test by future Horse of the Year LADY’S SECRET (Icecapade) before coming back to win the Alabama.

In the early 1990s, a trio of fillies made the task seem very achievable by recording the Test/Alabama double in three consecutive years: GO FOR WAND (Deputy Minister) in 1990, VERSAILLES TREATY (Danzig) in 1991 and NOVEMBER SNOW (Storm Cat) in 1992.

But two things happened that made the task even more difficult. First, trainers were beginning to want more time between races so 10 days to your next race became histoty. Trainers began to insist upon two weeks, then, three weeks between races and even that seems like a short rest by today’s standards.

Second, the Saratoga meet was extended beyond its traditional four-week duration to five weeks in 1991. A few years later, an extra weekend was added to make it a full six weeks. Now, we have another weekend added to the back end so Saratoga went from 24 days, to 30, to 34, to 36 and to the current 40.

With lots of spacing and horsemen wanting extra time between races, the Test now shows up at various times during the 40-day Saratoga schedule.

This year’s Test attracted 10 3YO fillies and some are stretching out and some are turning back in distance. Bob Baffert, who has been making a habit of shipping into New York and taking home all the money, sends out FAYPIEN (Ghostzapper), who won her first two starts at seven furlongs and then captured the Summer Oaks (G2) going two turns at Santa Anita. She comes in here off three straight 59 and change five-furlong workouts at Del Mar and Rafael Bejarano is in for the ride.

AMERICAN GAL (Concord Point) used to be trained by Baffert but switched barns over the winter to Simon Callaghan and was a sharp winner in the 6 1/2-furlong Victory Ride Stakes (G3) by over four lengths at Belmont Park. She went back to Del Mar to train for this and draws outside with Jose Ortiz where he can work out a pace-pressing trip aboard her.

Speed used to be dangerous going seven furlongs on the dirt at Saratoga and CHALON (Dialed In) might fit the bill. She went gate-to-wire to win the Jersey Girl Stakes last out and drew off to win by over six lengths two months ago. Back at her Southern California training center in San Luis Rey, she continues to train forwardly for Peter Miller who does not have the cross-country shipping reputation of some others out west.

VERTICAL OAK (Giant Oak) has had an interesting season. She won a Grade 3 stakes race at Pimlico going six furlongs then came to Belmont Park and was declared a non-starter in the Jersey Girl when she rushed the gate and had her head high to her left when it opened. She came back with a second in the Victory Ride, weakening in the stretch after pressing the pace four wide. Her gate issue appears to have been solved and seven furlongs should be right up her alley.

Dick Powell handicaps New York tracks for Brisnet.com. You can find his Daily Selections for the Saratoga meet here

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