Headlining the event is Princess of Sylmar, winner of this year’s Grade I Kentucky Oaks and Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks. She stormed onto the scene in Kentucky a 38-1 long shot and now finds herself the 3-5 favorite. The Alabama is 1 ¼ miles long—the same distance as the Grade I Travers Stakes—and marks the longest any of these fillies will likely ever run. Princess of Sylmar is more than up to the task.
Her grandsire is A.P. Indy, a winner of the Belmont Stakes, so the distance is in her blood.
“She should excel with the added distance,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “She finished both the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club very well, indicating to me she wants more distance. She’s easy to turn off in the early part of the race and relaxes nicely, so that should also help.”
She’s had two easy half-mile workouts since her win in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Both workouts were timed in 49 seconds and change.
Mike Smith rode Princess of Sylmar to her shocking win the Kentucky Oaks and Javier Castellano secured the mount in the Coaching Club American Oaks when Pletcher’s first-call rider, John Velazquez, opted for Unlimited Budget.
“I really appreciate that Todd gave me back the horse because I couldn’t hook up in the Oaks,” Castellano said after the Coaching Club. “I really liked the way she did it. It was a great performance today. She ran like the best horse in the race. I’m really proud of her.”
As a result, Castellano maintains the mount for Princess of Sylmar as the heavy morning-line favorite.
If Princess of Sylmar can win the Alabama, she will likely secure Championship Three-Year-Old Filly honors. Since 1999, five fillies have won the Alabama and the Kentucky Oaks including Silverbulletday, Flute, Farda Amiga, Proud Spell and Blind Luck. Flute was the only filly of that group not to win an Eclipse Award.
Velazquez will be aboard the second choice Fiftyshadesofhay, a filly trained by Bob Baffert. Most recently she was the winner of the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan and Grade III Iowa Oaks. At 2-1, she’ll break from Post 6.
Pletcher entered another filly in this race, Galloping Giraffe. She’s owned by Mike Repole, the charismatic owner who also owns the filly Unlimited Budget (not entered in this race). Galloping Giraffe will need a lot of pace to run into in order to compete in this field.
“She’s a very big filly who tends to drop way back in her races, so we feel like a mile and a quarter might suit her,” said Pletcher. “Mike Repole is ambitious and doesn’t mind taking a shot with some of his horses, so that’s what we are doing with her.”
Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer to Carnival Court, won this race a year ago with Questing, a stunning performance he’ll try to replicate.
“We’re trying to hit the board,” said McLaughlin. “With her pedigree, if we finished third in a Grade I it would make her worth so much money. She’s by Street Sense and is a half-sister to Royal Delta; that’s why we’re doing it. We think she wants that distance, and not every three-year-old does. But she’ll have to keep improving and have a good trip to be part of it.”
Montana Native and Tell a Great Story round out the field.
Boisterous Looks Sharp for Sword Dancer
Playing Robin to the Batman that is the Alabama Saturday is the Grade I Sword Dancer, an iconic and thrilling renewal of Saratoga’s best race on turf. Boisterous, the Phipps horse trained by Shug McGaughey, looms large as the heavy favorite in the field of 13 horses.
Boisterous handled Big Blue Kitten and Twilight Eclipse in the Grade I Man o’ War at Belmont Park. Both horses are back for revenge.
“Talking to [Hall of Fame jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] after the Man O’ War, he felt like he was better at the longer distances than shorter distances,” McGaughey said. “He said, ‘I can kind of do more with him.’ He’s gotten now where he relaxes well in his races, so I don’t think a mile and a half will be a problem.”
And for a 1½ mile race like the Sword Dancer, relaxing is critical.
Trained by Chad Brown, Big Blue Kitten is the 4-1 second choice. He’s fresh of a win in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park and has won three of five starts in 2013.
“The horse is pretty versatile, if you look back at his whole career, albeit at a lesser level,” Brown said. “He has won wire-to-wire, he’s won from dead last. I think he can adapt to the pace, so the ideal situation in my own head is that he has some pace to run at so I’m not on the lead.”
Orb Settles in Nicely
Orb, winner of the Kentucky Derby, has spent the greater part of the summer down in Maryland away from the hullabaloo of Saratoga. He’s been getting rest after a rigorous spring that saw him run five grueling races over the span of four months—three of those over a five-week stretch during the Triple Crown.
He’s done most of his training at Fair Hill and now he takes his place on the Oklahoma backside under the care of Shug McGaughey.
“He’s a good shipper. I liked the way he came off the van,” said McGaughey, who was joined at the barn by Ogden “Dinny” Phipps, who co-owns Orb with Stuart Janney III. “I think he’s gotten bigger.”
He’ll continue to ratchet up his training as he preps for the $1 million Travers Stakes on August 24.
“So far, so good,” McGaughey said. “I think my experiment has worked up to now, if we can just manage not to mess him up in the next two weeks.”