The Alabama is one of my favorite races of the meet. It’s the only Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a quarter on dirt, and some of the best performances I’ve ever seen at Saratoga have come in that race. I was there in-person for Questing’s romp in 2012 and Princess of Sylmar’s easy score in 2013 (she, by the way, got royally hosed in an indefensible Eclipse Award vote that season), and the list of winners includes horses like Songbird, Royal Delta, Go For Wand, Shuvee, and Gamely.
Saratoga is a place that harkens back to the glory days of racing, and it presents many things that simply don’t exist anywhere else anymore. In this case, that includes the Alabama, which provides ways for horses bred for stamina, rather than whatever the heck “brilliance” is, to strut their stuff on a big stage. It’s always a fun race to watch, and I’m excited for the 2021 renewal and the loaded undercard that will come with it.
FRIDAY’S RESULTS: For the second time this week, we were washed out due to a weather-induced surface switch.
SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus early in the card and attempt to extract value out of some heavy favorites. First, I’ll play a $15 cold Pick Three starting in the opener that singles #6 TRIPLE ELVIS, #2 ZAINALARAB, and #1 ROBIN SPARKLES in their respective races. I’ll also play a 50-cent early Pick Five that looks like this: 6 with 2 with 1 with 2,4,7,9,10,11 with 1,4,5. Finally, I’ll punch a cold $6 double starting in the second that singles Zainalarab and Robin Sparkles.
TOTAL WAGERED: $30.
Best Bet: Malathaat, Race 10
Longshot: Charlie Five O, Race 8
Fan the Fire
#6 TRIPLE ELVIS: Hammered for $700,000 at auction last year, and for good reason. He’s by Into Mischief, out of a mare who herself is out of the great Serena’s Song, and he’s been working very quickly. If he runs to the works, I think we’ll see a head-turning performance in the Alabama Day opener; PLETCHER ENTRY: Both #1 NAPA VALLEY and #1A MAJOR GENERAL have every right to run well here. Pletcher’s exploits with first-time starters are well-documented, and he’s enlisted a pair of top-tier riders to pilot these two; #2 FAN THE FIRE: Wasn’t disgraced in his debut, when he was second in an off-the-turf event behind a well-meant runner. The pedigree says he’ll get better with experience, and having a start under his belt could be a big plus (only one other runner in here has raced).
#2 ZAINALARAB: Looms large against a short field of just four others in this allowance event. She won first time out back in September, was a good second behind the talented Australasia in April, and any sort of a move forward would make her a formidable favorite; #4 PORTILLA: Cuts back to one turn after a failed two-turn experiment here last month. She won at first asking and was fourth in a fast race at this distance two back, and she figures to do her best running late; #3 PRIMACY: Adds blinkers for Chad Brown and, at a minimum, will be a bigger price than her stablemate. She’s run figures that show she fits here, and if a faster-than-expected pace materializes here, she’ll be heard from late.
#1 ROBIN SPARKLES: Tired to finish third behind Caravel in the Grade 3 Caress last month. However, she sure looks like the controlling speed here in the Smart N Fancy. I think she leads every step of the way and prompts trips to the mall for fans of “How I Met Your Mother”; #2 LEAD GUITAR: Won four in a row to end 2020 and had an adventurous go of it in the Grade 2 Royal North at Woodbine. She was declared a non-starter that day, and she may have needed the race anyway. If another runner goes with my top pick early on, this is the one that’ll benefit the most; #4 PIEDI BIANCHI: Has earned some big checks in some big spots and is an easy horse to root for. She was second in the Grade 3 Intercontinental two back at Belmont, and while this may be a bit shorter than her best distance, her talent could be enough to get her a piece of this one.
#11 TANGERINE DREAM: Is a bit of a gamble given that she hasn’t been out of the barn since November of last year. However, her lone start here was pretty good, she gets Lasix for the first time, and her last two works have been very good. Luis Saez sees fit to ride, and the outside draw should give him plenty of options; #4 ESCAPOLOGY: Returned from a three-month freshening to run fourth in the slop earlier in the meet. She was rushed up after a poor start and probably lost all chance at that point. This barn connects at a solid clip with horses second off the bench, and I can’t ignore her; #2 MARIA’S GIFT: Has had plenty of chances, but ran into a runaway winner last time out and has races before that which would put her right there in this spot. I’m not sure how many more chances I can give her, but she should be prominent early and have every opportunity to work out a trip that gives her a shot.
Too Early (MTO)
#4 GHOST GIANT: Has been very popular at the claim box and makes his first start for Rob Atras, whose barn has been firing on all cylinders this summer. He may not have appreciated the yielding going last time, and a repeat of his winning effort two back over firm ground at Belmont would make him tough; #1 REGAL SPEAKER: Has won three of his last six starts and delivered as the 6/5 favorite in a lower-level event downstate back in June. He’s shown he can go two turns, and he won over this route of ground when graduating out of the maiden ranks a season ago; #5 MATTY’S EXPRESS: Made his local debut a winning one when he prevailed by a neck as a 10-1 longshot last month. This is a tougher spot, but he’s been very consistent since being claimed by Kelly Breen last August, and his usual race would likely earn him a minor award.
Betsy Blue (MTO)
#8 KOKOPELLI: May have bounced last time out, when she stretched out to seven furlongs over a yielding turf course at Belmont. The cutback to 5 1/2 furlongs should help her, and I think she’ll be the one the rest of the field has to worry about late; #3 AWSUM ROAR: Was compromised by a slow pace here earlier in the meet, and it didn’t help that the winner was a well-meant runner that came right back to earn another victory at next asking. Her races earlier this year at Gulfstream were pretty sharp, and I’m willing to give her another shot (at least in the exotics); #4 SILKY BLUE: Has been very competitive at this level downstate and could sit a great stalking trip. This barn doesn’t saddle a ton of horses, but it’s hit at a 20% clip in 2021 and merits plenty of respect whenever a runner is led over.
Skate to Heaven
#2 MY PRANKSTER: Sold for $600,000 at auction last year and has been training forwardly for Pletcher. The two half-mile gate drills jump off the page, and he’s bred to be a runner, being by Into Mischief and out of a mare that won multiple graded stakes races; #8 RESERVE CURRENCY: Must’ve been quite impressive earlier this year, because he sold for $375,000 despite a very modest pedigree. He’s worked steadily for Chad Brown, the last two drills show a tightening of the screws, and he draws well in his first lifetime start; #4 SKATE TO HEAVEN: Has turned in some solid five-furlong gate drills for Robertino Diodoro, who popped at a big price with a first-time starter last week. Diodoro’s hit at a 22% clip with firsters and boasts a very strong ROI, so it wouldn’t be a shock if this son of Laoban was ready to go.
Charlie Five O
#4 IDENTITY POLITICS: Is a reluctant top pick in the first leg of the late Pick Four. He hasn’t won in quite a while and is a Chad Brown trainee with many Monmouth works, and both of those facts are red flags. However, he’s the lone closer in what looks like a race with lots of speed, and that’s something I just cannot ignore; #5 CHARLIE FIVE O: Crushed an overmatched field of lower-level claimers in his last start, after which he was claimed by Linda Rice. He’s been working well ahead of his return, attracts Jose Ortiz for this event, and has enough speed to be prominent from the jump; #1 RESTORING HOPE: Is one of the most star-crossed horses in racing and takes a big drop in class. At various junctures Justify’s Belmont Stakes fullback and a sign that Jason Servis’s barn may not have been on the up-and-up, he has an excuse for his last-out dud, which came in his first start since August against a much better group.
#6 SPANISH LOVEAFFAIR: Misfired in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks but has enough talent and the right running style to spring a mild upset in the Grade 2 Lake Placid. She’s got plenty of tactical speed, was impressive winning at this distance in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride before being taken down in an indefensible DQ, and could inherit the early lead by default. If she does, look out; #2 TECHNICAL ANALYSIS: Was an overlay at 7-1 in the Grade 3 Lake George and made the betting public pay with an impressive score. She did have a perfect trip that day, but the smaller field puts a similar scenario in play here, and when Chad Brown gets turf horses on the right track, they tend to stay there; #3 EGO TRIP: Was running well late in her North American debut, which doubled as a pretty salty maiden race here earlier in the meet. I think it’s a sign of confidence she’s entered here, not at that level, and she could very well improve in her second American outing.
#6 MALATHAAT: Suffered her first career defeat in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, but she ran very well that day. She set a legitimate pace, and that’s not necessarily her best game. There’s other speed in the Grade 1 Alabama, and she should be able to sit back in the first flight and pounce turning for home; #7 ARMY WIFE: Has developed into a very good filly and is in search of her third straight graded stakes score. She runs like a horse that should enjoy racing’s classic, 10-furlong distance, and the Mike Maker barn has been as successful as any at this stand; #4 MARACUJA: Pulled off a 14-1 upset in the CCA Oaks last time out and won’t be anywhere near that price here. She ran very well, to be sure, but she also received one of the best rides we’ve seen this summer, and she may need to take another step forward here.
Perfect Grace (MTO)
Split Then Double
#4 SPLIT THEN DOUBLE: Has never run a poor race on the lawn and was third in the same maiden race that featured Ego Trip, who’s set to run in the Lake Placid. Based on speed figures, she looms large as the one to beat, and the Saturday finale looks like it’s her race to lose; #1 GAUFF: Debuts for Brad Cox, and while it’s tough for some horses to go two turns at first asking, she’s bred up and down for this route and has worked well. She’s a half-sister to a Group 3-placed runner, and her second dam is a stakes-winning turf sprinter; #6 INGRESS: Didn’t run badly in her debut earlier this meet, when she was fourth and a bit more than a length behind my top pick. Her two half-mile drills since that effort have been sharp, and she has every right to improve.