2015 Alabama Stakes Day Stakes Preview

This week’s coverage at Picks & Ponderings is a three-pronged attack covering both coasts of the States, their boutique summer meets, and a little something in between.  On the East Coast is Saratoga, and coverage centers there with the G1 Alabama Stakes and the Troy Stakes on their undercard covered in this piece.  On the West Coast is Del Mar, and Nicolle Neulist takes helm for your handicapping needs, covering Pacific Classic Day and their triplet of Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In events.  Between them lies the home grounds of Arlington Park, with Paul Mazur providing a look at the G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity.

Our piece here focuses on Saratoga – and Picks & Ponderings returns to handicapping Spa races after a week spent on the home circuit.  The G1 Alabama – the centerpiece three-year-old filly race of the summer – is the headline feature.  The ten furlong event is analyzed here.  The undercard features turf sprinters in the Troy Stakes.

Horse Racing Radio Network will also live-stream the Alabama (though its post time falls beyond its alloted time window) on its website as part of its Saratoga Saturdays. That broadcast will run from 5:00-6:00pm EDT. HRRN’s program is also available on Sirius 92. As with all NYRA racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, audio of these races is streamed on the NYRA website, and HD video is available to anyone with a free NYRA account.

Morning line odds were not available at original publish time.  All races discussed in this piece are scheduled for Saturday August 22nd.

Updated on August 20th to include morning lines.  Updated on August 22 to reflect scratches in the Troy Stakes.

Saratoga — Race 7 — Troy Stakes — Five and one-half furlongs on Mellon turf — post time 4:22 pm ET

Many racetracks turn to local geography for stakes names, and Saratoga is no different.  A half hour’s drive south of the Spa is Troy, New York.  The home of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy is part of New York’s Capital District with Albany, which Saratoga Springs is loosely part of.  The Troy Stakes dates to 2004, and in its first two years was run at a mile.  Turned back to a sprint in 2006, it counts double winners Awakino Cat (2009-10) and Bridgetown (2011-12) as its winners.  Locally based Hogy – in the Wayne Catalano barn at the time – took down the 2013 version of this race.  All runnings of the Troy have been at Saratoga on their sod – save for last year when it was washed off.  SPRING TO THE SKY (2014) won the only off-turf Troy Stakes.  This undercard event on Alabama Stakes Day is slated for five and a half furlongs on the Mellon Turf and carries a $100,000 purse.  The rail at publish time is set to twenty-seven feet out from zero.   The discussion below is for “turf only”.

Placing the rail at twenty-seven feet from zero will put a premium on forward speed and inside draws given a course that’s tighter around.  So the first name on the page – an inside speed horse drawing post one – looks good.  And after scanning the names of the others, all roads lead to SOMETHING EXTRA.  In top level (which would be G3/G2 events), he’s danced the dances and hit the board – though he won his first start of the year in the G3 Shakertown at Keeneland dictating the terms up front.  The G2 Highlander last time saw him set a blazing tempo up front and still get the bottom rung of the superfecta without a free lunch on the front end.  SOMETHING EXTRA hasn’t been seen since that effort in Canada, but the fact he’s taken time away is a good thing: his better races have come after some time away, and SOMETHING EXTRA will have  that layoff in his favor.  The pro-speed configuration will help him, as mentioned.  It’s not expected to be a free lunch on the front end, but SOMETHING EXTRA can survive a contested pace and doesn’t need the lead. With SOMETHING EXTRA able to go sub :22 opening panels, and SPRING TO THE SKY also able to, the possibility exists there’s a pace meltdown on the front end.  Enter SANDY’Z SLEW.  Third in this race last year, he was fourth over these weeds in a comparable event – the $100K Lucky Coin earlier in the Saratoga meet.  Such event was the third career Spa outing for SANDY’Z SLEW, and his fourth, beaten a length comes with gate issues.  His prior two starts feature wins over the Saratoga sod.  A horse for the course, SANDY’Z SLEW would be a stronger pick if the rail is set to zero.  But his outer draw and rail position make his job as a midpack closer all the more difficult.  SHORE RUNNER, a Joe Sharp production, moves up.  Winner of the Lucky Coin Stakes for the same hundred grand purse as today’s event, he’s come to hand as a “now” horse of the Saratoga meet and is a perfect two-for-two over the course.  A Joe Sharp claim that’s done nice work after the claim (which makes sense given he attended the Mike Maker school of Making Claimed Horses Better), he closed off quick splits in races at five and a half here at the Spa and at six downstate at Belmont.  He’ll need SOMETHING EXTRA and SPRING TO THE SKY to cook each other on the front end, but he’s a horse hurt by the rails being set twenty-seven feet out from the zero position.



#9 SANDY’Z SLEW (8/1)


Longshot: Morning scratches of GO BLUE OR GO HOME, WEEKEND HIDEAWAY AND HAVELOCK leave only a field of six.   #4 SPRING TO THE SKY (8/1) gets Javier Castellano back in the irons and Castellano has perhaps concluded he’s a forward type who needs to be in earshot of the lead.  Perhaps Rosario rated this one to sleep last time in the Lucky Coin over this course, and a more forward style from Castellano could help.  Getting the rails out from the zero position and having only six horses in the field helps him, too with fewer closers to attack.  Winner last year of both the Lucky Coin and the off-turf Troy over the course.

Saratoga — Race 10 — G1 Alabama Stakes — One and one-quarter miles on Dirt — post time 6:07 pm ET

This Grade One earned its namesake through a gesture of humility from Confederate General William Cottrill. Honored in 1872 – the early days of Saratoga and American racing as a whole – Cottrill turned down the glory of a race in his name and instead asked it be named for the state of his berth, Alabama.  That 1872 iteration of the Alabama was the first running, and it’s been going strong since – minus some gaps when parimutel wagering was illegal in New York in the late 1800s.  Contested at ten furlongs for over a century, it serves as a de facto filly complement of the Travers in that both races are at ten furlongs, both are in the summer, and both serve as referendums on the summer status of sophomores.  The Grade One, $600,000 Alabama Stakes is that late-summer measuring stick for the fillies. Stakes namesakes from Beldame (1904) to Royal Delta (2011) – and many more in between – have won the Alabama.

Go For Wand goes start-to-finish in stakes record time in the 1990 Alabama Stakes. Video Courtesy Youtube.

The G2 Indiana Oaks a month ago was a two-speed number where two speeds went around the track one-two.  The faster of them was High Dollar Woman, while SWEETGRASS was the slower of them.  SWEETGRASS stalked from second in a sloppy renewal of the G2 Indiana Oaks and held off closers and fellow pressers.  While one of those pressers – Ahh Chocolate – ran a dud in last week’s G3 Pucker Up – SWEETGRASS showed the same type of sustained style that CURALINA showed.  However, as SWEETGRASS did it off the beaten path of (read: Not New York) Indiana, she should be a square price.  She’s bred perhaps the best for ten furlongs being by Street Sense out of a Brahms mare. Perhaps trainer Ian Wilkes had this race – not some race in Indiana – as his plan all along.   That sustained effort and breeding are the clues to putting her on top.  Two back she ran a sneaky good race in the G3 Iowa Oaks working from off the usually golden Prairie Meadows rail.  At ten furlongs, the grinding gear exhibited by CURALINA to win post disqualification the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks will help immensely.  While I’M A CHATTERBOX did brush against CURALINA – such result giving the win to the daughter of Curlin even though I’M A CHATTERBOX was first across the line – CURALINA did show she could a cruising speed and a sustained rally.  It was that sustained effort – but forward enough to not be totally pace dependent – that earned a second G1 victory.  On the pace two back in the Acorn, CURALINA shoots here for the Triple Tiara and leadership of the sophomore filly division.  Bred for ten furlongs on top, she was bet down to even money in the G1 CCA Oaks and her price will likely be in that range.  Stretchout speed EMBELLISH THE LACE and forward type CURALINA ensure there should be an honest pace.  INCLUDE BETTY has proven to need a solid pace to do her best, whether to win a G3 at Tampa or mow them down in the G1 Mother Goose.  While it’s folly many times to pick a closer at a longer distance because there’s more distance, it’s not folly to take a closer that does have solid races in a variety of scenarios – one turn at Belmont, two turns at Tampa.  Nor is it folly for a runner who could on paternal bloodlines stay the ten furlongs.


#7 SWEETGRASS (12/1)

#2 CURALINA (7/5)


Longshot: Raise your hand if you thought a Kentucky Oaks winner would be a “B” entrant in a summertime graded stakes.  It’s certainly an unexpected development, but I’M A CHATTERBOX nearly went gate to wire in the G1 CCA Oaks – this race’s local prep – and will be supported at the windows.  That could put the aforementioned scenario of an Oaks winner as a “B” runner, mainly because #3 LOVELY MARIA (5/1) ran a dud – and that’s spelled with capital letters – in the G3 Delaware Oaks.  Perhaps LOVELY MARIA had a bad day and needed that race to get back into racing shape.  It was the first start off the lay for LOVELY MARIA, as she went on break after dancing all the New Orleans-based Oaks prep dances.  Perhaps she can fire better second off the layoff and deserves a second chance before being dismissed as a filly that peaked in the Spring.  Regular rider Kerwin Clark – the kids call him “Boo Boo” – gets back in the irons.  Not often you see this space’s choice on the tote go off shorter in price than the top selection above.


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