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For the third year in a row, the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) winner will not wheel back on four weeks’ rest to contest this Saturday’s Alabama Stakes (G1).
In 2017, Abel Tasman was victorious in the Coaching Club after going nose-to-nose with Elate in an epic stretch tussle. Abel Tasman skipped the Alabama and flew back to California, returning in her next start to run second in the Cotillion Stakes (G1) at Parx. The Bob Baffert trainee again finished second in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff (G1) on her way to an Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year-Old Filly.
Last year, the Coaching Club champion Monomoy Girl also skipped the Alabama in favor of the Cotillion, where she was placed second via disqualification. Her Breeder’s Cup Distaff win came next on her way to her own Three-Year-Old Filly Championship.
You have to go all the way back to 2016 to when yet another champion, Songbird, swept both the Coaching Club and Alabama.
We won’t see a sweep this year, either, since the 2019 Coaching Club victor Guarana will – surprise – skip the Alabama and point to the Cotillion for trainer Chad Brown.
While this doesn’t mean that the Alabama can’t produce a viable division threat, the recent trend has to not test top fillies at the race’s grueling 1 1/4-mile distance because they likely will not be asked to run it again in their careers.
Still, the Alabama is a Grade 1 event, and it deserves respect as a top race on the Saratoga calendar, so let’s dissect the field for this $600,000 race in this week’s Saratoga Skinny!
Despite division leader Guarana skipping the Alabama, Brown ain’t just gonna twiddle his thumbs during a Grade 1 at his home track.
Brown has pointed the Mother Goose Stakes (G2) winner Dunbar Road to the Alabama for a while now and has successfully kept his fillies apart at the major New York stakes.
Owner Peter Brant just won two stakes at Arlington Park with Brown, including a second consecutive Beverly D. (G1) with super-mare Sistercharlie, and Dunbar Road is another top female in his colors. She has won three of her four lifetime starts, with her only blemish a runner-up finish in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). She lost by just a 1/2-length to Champagne Anyone, who is also expected to run in the Alabama.
In Dunbar Road’s last race (the Mother Goose), jockey Jose Ortiz was content to sit behind the leaders early. When she was asked turning for home, she bulled her way to the outside and put the field away in easy fashion, drawing away by 2 1/2 lengths to become a graded stakes winner.
“She’s doing fine and is on target for the Alabama. I couldn’t be happier with her,” Brown said in a recent NYRA press release. “She’s training as good now as she has all year.”
Sired by Quality Road out of the Bernardini mare Gift List, Dunbar Road has decent enough distance pedigree, but she hasn’t run farther than 1 1/16 miles. The added distance is a major question mark for all of the fillies in this race, though, as none have run this far.
Dunbar Road’s biggest challenge in the Alabama will come from Point of Honor, who was bearing down on Guarana late in the Coaching Club before settling for second, losing to Guarana by only a length.
Unlike Dunbar Road, who doesn’t have a win going around two turns, Point of Honor earned hers in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) at Pimlico while going 1 1/8 miles. Her strong performances there and in the Coaching Club should give trainer George Weaver plenty of confidence that she can handle added distance.
“She’s had a good four weeks (since the Coaching Club) and she’s been training good. We’re happy with her,” Weaver said in a NYRA press release. “She’s not a difficult keep. She’s remained happy all year. She likes it here, but she liked it in Florida and liked it in Kentucky [too].”
As a daughter of top distance sire Curlin out of a Bernardini mare, Point of Honor will likely vie with Dunbar Road for favoritism.
“She’s bred to handle it and this is the race we’ve had in the back of our minds for several months now,” Weaver said. “It’s going to be up to her and (jockey) Javier (Castellano) to figure out how to get the win. She was second in the Oaks last time. She has to go get it done, but it’s something we’re looking forward to.”
Contention in the field should run deep, starting with the aforementioned Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Champagne Anyone. The daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense beat both Dunbar Road and Point of Honor (who finished fourth by 2 lengths) in that 1 1/16-mile race. That was way back at the end of March, though, and it was only Dunbar Road’s second career start and Point of Honor’s third, so both have moved forward off that effort.
Champagne Anyone followed up that win with two fourth-place finishes in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and the Coaching Club for trainer Ian Wilkes. In the Coaching Club, she attended Guarana’s slow pace but then faded over the local dirt stretch.
A filly pointing in the right direction coming into the Alabama is Street Band, who dismissed a field of 12 to win the Indiana Oaks (G3) at Indiana Grand in mid-July. Legendary trainer Larry Jones is always good with fillies, and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) winner may be live in this spot.
Another filly coming off of an Oaks win on the Midwest circuit is Lady Apple, who won the Iowa Oaks (G3) at Prairie Meadows in early July. Before that race, the Steve Asmussen trainee ran a good third in the Kentucky Oaks, so the Fantasy Stakes (G3) winner can definitely compete at this class level. Sired by Curlin, she may relish the extra distance, too.
Lady Apple beat Ulele by only a 1/2-length in the Iowa Oaks and the Candy Ride filly will have a shot to hit the board in the Alabama at a big price. Before the Iowa Oaks, the Brad Cox pupil also lost to Point of Honor by only a 1/2-length in the Black-Eyed Susan, where she just couldn’t hold off that foe’s late charge.
The field is filled out by Afleet Destiny, who finished fourth in the Delaware Oaks (G3) last out for Uriah St. Lewis; Off Topic, third last out in the Coaching Club for Todd Pletcher; and Kelsey’s Cross, who makes her dirt debut after five career turf races for Patrick Biancone.
It’s easy to just point to Dunbar Road or Point of Honor as the likely winner this year, but the second tier of competitors (including Street Band and Lady Apple) may jump up coming off of their recent graded stakes wins.
A longshot like Ulele is very attractive to mix into the exotics. Ulele is the likely pace-setter, which bodes well for her chances to get a lonely lead and hold on for a piece late. Ulele is my key horse in exactas and trifectas with Point of Honor and Lady Apple. I’ll likely only include Dunbar Road defensively.
To be honest, when I started to write this article, I thought that this would be a strong exacta play using just Dunbar Road and Point of Honor, but this field runs deep with talent and these fillies have all tangled with each other in the past, with alternating results. Something tricky may happen in the Alabama that will result in a nice payoff.
Please follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for updates and additional analysis as we draw closer to Saturday’s card, which will also include the Lake Placid Stakes (G2), where Varenka looks like a stand-out for trainer Graham Motion.
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