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Aaron previews the 2022 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, then gives his top picks and longshots. After dominating the Kentucky Oaks (G1) champion Secret Oath in the CCA Oaks (G1) last time out going 1 1/8 miles, is Nest a lock to win just as strongly as they stretch out to 1 1/4 miles? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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The track press release:
Sophomore filly division leaders Nest and Secret Oath will go head-to-head for the third time this year, and second time this meet, in Saturday’s 142nd running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama at Saratoga Race Course.
The prestigious 10-furlong event for sophomore fillies has been won by more than a dozen Hall of Fame fillies, including Miss Woodford , Beldame , Top Flight , Tempted , Gamely , Shuvee , Mom’s Command , Go for Wand ,Open Mind , Sky Beauty , Heavenly Prize , Silverbulletday , and Royal Delta .The Alabama honors prominent 19th century horse owner William Cottrell, who requested that the race be named after his home state of Alabama.
Both Nest and Secret Oath boast one victory over the other. After Secret Oath bested Nest in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs, the latter turned the tables on her foe in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 23 at Saratoga.
Nest, owned by Repole Stables, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest for a 3-year-old filly this year, for her 12 1/4-length romp in the CCA Oaks for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. The astonishing score came following a run against the boys in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11, finishing a game second to stablemate Mo Donegal.
“She ran super in the CCA Oaks and it seems like since she ran in the Kentucky Oaks, she improved physically,” Pletcher said. “She ran a great race and came out of that really well, put on weight and condition. She came back and ran even better in the CCA Oaks so hopefully she can continue trending upward.”
The dynamics of the CCA Oaks were altered when the two fillies who broke to the inside of Nest – Butterbean and Society – stumbled at the start.
“It changed the complexion of the race for sure, but to her credit she was able to adapt herself into position and she ran super from there,” Pletcher said.
An Alabama victory would make Nest the 20th filly to sweep the CCA Oaks-Alabama double, something Pletcher previously did with Princess of Sylmar  and Stopchargingmaria .
“It can be [difficult],” said Pletcher, who also saddled last year’s Alabama winner Malathaat en route to Eclipse Award honors. “Whenever you’re running four weeks off a huge effort like that, you’re always concerned about if you’re running back too soon. But, in her case, she’s done so well since the race there’s no reason not to.”
A five-length winner on debut during her 2-year-old season, Nest was a late-closing third in the Tempted on November 5 at Belmont Park before capturing her two-turn and graded stakes debut in the Grade 2 Demoiselle on December 4 at Aqueduct.
“She’s been good at two and three and appreciated the distance. She’s a very classy filly to be around and a pleasure to train,” Pletcher said.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., the pilot aboard all five of Nest’s lifetime wins, will retain the mount from post 4.
Pletcher will also saddle Red Oak Stable’s homebred Goddess of Fire, who enters off a runner-up finish in the Wilton on Opening Day at the Spa going one mile from the Wilson Chute. The daughter of Mineshaft, and half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winner Mind Control, is still in search of her first score since a victorious debut last August at the Spa. She has kept classy company throughout her sophomore campaign, earning graded stakes placings when second in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra on February 19 at Fair Grounds Race Course as well as the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 2.
Goddess of Fire will race with blinkers on for the first time.
“I’m hoping it just gets her attention a little bit and puts her into the flow a little more,” Pletcher said. “She’s a filly that always shows up and runs well. Both of her races over the track have been good. She needs to take a step forward, but she’s held good company all year.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a four-time Alabama winner, will ride Goddess of Fire from post 2.
While Nest seeks to keep her upward trajectory afloat, Secret Oath will look to turn the tables for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
The Briland Farm homebred daughter of Arrogate provided the legendary horseman with his fifth Kentucky Oaks victory, and first since 1990. She was eighth down the backstretch and began making up ground approaching the far turn from the four-to-five path. Building on her one-length advantage at the stretch call, Secret Oath won the Oaks by two lengths. An Alabama victory would bridge a 33-year gap between triumphs in the race for Lukas, who saddled Life’s Magic  and Open Mind  to previous scores.
Like Nest, Secret Oath also contested colts on the Triple Crown trail when running a troubled fourth in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico following her Kentucky Oaks conquest. She was brushed at the break and checked approaching the first turn before launching a wide a bid around the far turn, but flattened out in mid-stretch.
Secret Oath fell victim to another unfavorable trip in the CCA Oaks, where she was four-wide down the backstretch and moved a path wide into the far turn. Despite drifting in at the eighth pole, she still managed to hold place honors.Lukas has regrouped with his talented filly, who has trained forwardly under regular rider Luis Saez over the Oklahoma training track in the three weeks leading up to the Alabama.
“She’s really had a good month since that debacle in the [CCA Oaks],” Lukas said. “In fact, I feel like she’s better now than any time I’ve had her. She’s really flourished here at Saratoga. Luis has worked her three times since that race so he’s getting more familiar every day with her, too. So, that should help us as much as anything. We’re anxious to run her.”
Lukas spoke highly of Pletcher, who served as his assistant trainer before launching a prominent training career of his own in 1996.
“Todd is family, so one of us need to win it to keep it in the family,” Lukas said. “I have great respect for Nest and for Todd. He was a tremendous trainer when he was with me, and he still is. It’s not going to be easy to beat him, but if I can’t beat him, I hope he wins it.”
Secret Oath boasts field-best earnings of $1,494,417 through a record of 10-5-1-2, which also includes stakes wins in the Martha Washington and Grade 3 Honeybee earlier this year at Oaklawn Park.
Saez retains the mount from post 7.
Godolphin’s homebred graded stakes-winner Nostalgic seeks to give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his fourth Alabama victory. By Medaglia d’Oro, Nostalgic enters the Alabama off a distant third in the CCA Oaks, which came two starts after making the grade in the Grade 3 Gazelle on April 9 at Aqueduct. She finished a troubled 11th in the Kentucky Oaks four weeks later.
Mott, whose previous Alabama winners include Hall of Famer Royal Delta , said Nostalgic should appreciate the stretch out.
“We’re curious to see if she gets the mile-and-a-quarter and it looks like that should help her,” Mott said. “We need a lot of help to get her that Grade 1 victory. She’s Grade 1-placed already, so she’s got her name there. But winning one is a little more difficult than finishing third.”
Jose Ortiz, who captured three straight runnings of the Alabama from 2017-19, will pick up the mount from post 5.
Trainer Chad Brown will saddle Klaravich Stables’ Gerrymander, who exits a three-length coup in the Grade 2 Mother Goose on June 25 at Belmont Park. The daughter of Into Mischief earned a career-best 98 Beyer for her last out victory, which came following a distant sixth in her 2022 debut in the Grade 2 Eight Belles at Churchill Downs – her lone off-the-board effort to date.
Brown said the eight-week layoff has been beneficial for Gerrymander. He used a similar path to the Alabama with 2019 winner Dunbar Road.
“I gave her a layoff by design,” said Brown. “Squeezing a race between the Mother Goose and the Alabama for that particular horse, I didn’t think it would be beneficial. The freshening and time that she has coming into the Alabama, I am very pleased with her.”
Joel Rosario will ride from post 3.
Rigney Racing’s Skratch Kat will look to continue a good meet for trainer Phil Bauer, who was saddled three winners among six starters. The daughter of Arrogate has run at two turns in all five lifetime starts, and was last seen defeating winners on July 1 at Churchill Downs. Following a runner-up on debut on February 10 at Fair Grounds, she graduated at second asking one month later at the New Orleans oval.
Breaking from post 1, Skratch Kat will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
Completing the field is Calumet Farm’s She’s Keen, who will take a big jump up from a last out maiden victory over the Saratoga main track for trainer Rusty Arnold. The Keen Ice bay showed new dimensions in her last out victory, setting a moderate tempo en route to a 1 1/2-length victory.
Jose Lezcano will pick up the mount from post 6.
The Alabama is slated as Race 10 on Saturday’s 11-race card, which also features the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Placid in Race 8 and the $150,000 Smart N Fancy in Race 9. First post is 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
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