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Jared previews the 2023 Alabama Stakes (G1) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots from the Saturday feature race at The Spa.
The Brad Cox-trained CCA Oaks (G1) winner Wet Paint takes on 9 rivals in this 1 1/4-mile grueling dirt route test. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Godolphin’s Kentucky homebred Wet Paint notched a breakthrough Grade 1 score last out in Saratoga Race Course’s nine-furlong $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks. The daughter of Blame will look to build upon that effort when stretching out to 10 furlongs for the first time in Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama presented by Keeneland Sales for sophomore fillies at the Spa.
The Alabama is slated as Race 9 on Saturday’s 11-race card, which also features the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Placid in Race 7. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.
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Trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winner Brad Cox, Wet Paint’s CCA Oaks victory came in thrilling fashion when flying home late under regular pilot Flavien Prat to nail Sacred Wish at the wire and secure a neck score in a final time of 1:50.68. She equaled a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort, which came on the heels of a runner-up finish to Hoosier Philly in the Monomoy Girl at Ellis Park where the latter was alone on the lead and coasted home a 3 1/2-length winner.
Michael Banahan, Director of Bloodstock for Godolphin, said the Monomoy Girl set up Wet Paint well for the CCA Oaks.
“The race at Ellis was purely a prep race and when we saw the field and the way it was going to develop, we knew we were up against it,” said Banahan. “But we were very pleased with the way she ran and with a paceless race like that, she really knuckled down and ran well. In the CCA Oaks, there was concern if she would get there at the end, but you could see her lower her head and make her run at the top of the stretch. We didn’t know if she would get there, but we knew she would try hard. Even in races with not enough pace, she still seems to run her best race.
“She’s doing very well and she’s in great shape,” Banahan added. “Brad is very happy with her and we were pleased with her coming out of the Coaching Club, so we feel she should give a good account of herself on Saturday.”
2023 CCA Oaks Replay | Wet Paint Makes Her Mark At Saratoga
The CCA Oaks was Wet Paint’s first visit to the winner’s circle since April when she took the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, her third consecutive stakes triumph at the Hot Springs oval before finishing a closing fourth as the post-time favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
Wet Paint kicked off her sophomore campaign with a two-length victory in the Martha Washington traveling 1 1/16 miles over wet-fast and sealed conditions and followed with an impressive win over sloppy and sealed conditions next out in the Grade 3 Honeybee in February, which she won with a devastating late rally from 12 lengths off the pace to cross the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front.
Though Wet Paint has not traveled beyond nine furlongs, Banahan said he is confident she can flourish over the added ground.
“Her running style and the way she finishes her races makes you think she can stretch out. This is maybe the one and only time these fillies have to go this far, and we just hope that there’s a little bit of pace to run at,” said Banahan. “She goes from way off the pace and we just want something run at. We’re very hopeful we can get the Alabama on her honor roll.”
Prat retains the mount from post 2.
Black Type Thoroughbreds, Swinbank Stables, Steve Adkisson, Christopher Dunn and Anthony Spinazzola’s Sacred Wish will try to turn the tables on Wet Paint after nearly fending off her familiar foe in the CCA Oaks. Trained by George Weaver, the Not This Time dark bay tracked in second throughout before taking the lead at the stretch call and powering down the lane under Manny Franco. She ran on bravely and drew clear from all but Wet Paint, who nabbed the victory in the final strides.
Sacred Wish is yet to defeat winners, but boasts a strong runner-up finish to Affirmative Lady in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks in April at its namesake track. The $50,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training purchase has banked $215,500 through a record of 6-1-3-1.
Sacred Wish will emerge from the inside post in rein to Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher brings a trio of skilled competitors as the New York-bred Kentucky Oaks runner-up Gambling Girl [post 7, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], Grade 1-winner Chocolate Gelato [post 6, Jose Ortiz] and Grade 2-winner Julia Shining [post 3, Luis Saez] attempt to give him his fifth win in this event. Pletcher has won this event the past two years with Nest last year and Malathaat in 2021, both of whom where named Champion 3-Year-Old Filly following their respective seasons.
Leading the triad is the Repole Stable-owned pair of Gambling Girl and Chocolate Gelato, the former of which enters from an even third-place finish behind Wet Paint in the CCA Oaks. The daughter of Dialed In, bred in New York by Gallagher’s Stud, has hit the board in both of her tries at the top level, including the CCA Oaks and a gutsy second in the Kentucky Oaks when closing furiously down the stretch to come up just a neck shy of the victorious Pretty Mischievous.
Gambling Girl is in search of her first win since September when taking the state-bred Joseph A. Gimma at Belmont at the Big A, but has posted a respectable sophomore campaign that includes an additional two stakes placings when second in the nine-furlong Busanda in January and the Grade 3 Gazelle in April, both at Aqueduct Racetrack. The bay filly was also a game third behind stablemate and returning rival Julia Shining in the Grade 2 Demoiselle last year at the Big A.
Chocolate Gelato, a dark bay daughter of Practical Joke, finished fourth in her lone outing this year in the six-furlong Jersey Girl at Belmont, ending a seven-month respite that followed a distant off-the-board finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Keeneland. Chocolate Gelato graduated at second asking by 8 1/2 lengths in August at the Spa before closing from off-the-pace to notch a Grade 1 triumph in the one-turn mile Frizette in October at Belmont at the Big A.
Rounding out the Pletcher contingent is Stonestreet Stables’ Kentucky homebred Julia Shining, who makes her first start off a four-month layoff after finishing a close third in the Grade 1 Ashland in April at Keeneland. The Curlin filly, who is a full-sister to the aforementioned dual Champion Malathaat, won her debut in October sprinting seven furlongs at Keeneland before conquering her first test against winners in style with a determined neck score over Affirmative Lady in the Grade 2 Demoiselle.
This year, Julia Shining has finished third in both her outings, including the Ashland and the one-mile and 40-yard Suncoast to kick off her campaign in February at Tampa Bay Downs. She has banked $262,575 in total earnings through her 4-2-0-2 record.
Trainer Kenny McPeek has won the Alabama twice in the past five runnings with Eskimo Kisses  and Swiss Skydiver , and is well-represented this year by Katsumi Yoshida’s Grade 1-winner Defining Purpose.
“If I can pull this off, that’ll be three of the last six Alabamas,” said McPeek. “It’s pretty exciting.”
The gray Cross Traffic filly arrives from a tidy 1 1/4-length coup in the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks traveling 1 1/16 miles on July 8 at Horseshoe Indianapolis where she stalked one length off the pace before getting first run in the turn and taking charge at the top of the stretch. She was awarded a career-best 87 Beyer for the effort.
McPeek noted the filly does her best running when well-rested, evidenced by her Indiana Oaks performance that came two months after finishing a distant seventh in the Kentucky Oaks.
“She’s doing super and she’s ready,” said McPeek. “She does really well when we space her races good, and the Indiana Oaks was a well-spaced race. We’re excited that she has a chance to win another Grade 1.”
Defining Purpose scored her first Grade 1 in April in the Ashland when delivering a 20-1 upset over the favored Punchbowl with her usual stalk-and-pounce tactics. She had previously finished a respective third and sixth in the Martha Washington and Honeybee behind Wet Paint, and won Oaklawn’s one-mile Year’s End on New Year’s Eve by 5 1/4 lengths.
McPeek said he is hopeful Defining Purpose will relish the Alabama distance.
“None of them have done it yet, so it’s wide open, but I think she’s perfectly capable,” said McPeek. “She’s been a filly that has been a bit of an overachiever from the beginning. She was a $14,000 RNA as a young horse, so everything she’s accomplished up until now is all gravy. She’s extremely smart and is very willing. She loves her tasks and she’s an easy filly to train. She’s training fantastic.”
Regular pilot Brian Hernandez, Jr. will look to engineer a winning ride from the outermost post 10.
Completing the field are the Chad Brown-trained duo of Klaravich Stables’ Wilton-winner Randomized [post 8, Joel Rosario] and Juddmonte’s allowance-winner Fireline [post 5, Javier Castellano]; Richard Bahde’s graded stakes-winner Taxed [post 9, Rafael Bejarano], who finished second last out in the Indiana Oaks and won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan in May at Pimlico Race Course for conditioner Randy Morse; and Valene Farms’ graded stakes-placed Sabra Tuff [post 4, Reylu Gutierrez], who finished third in last year’s Grade 3 Adirondack for trainer Dallas Stewart.
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