By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The feature race on Saturday
at Saratoga is the $600,000 Alabama S. (G1), one of the most important events
in the country for three-year-old fillies.
The historic race is
contested over 1 1/4 miles on dirt, which is an uncommon distance for sophomore
fillies to tackle. But the testing distance has done nothing to dampen the
quality of the field. To the contrary, the 2022 Alabama has drawn a stellar
field with four graded stakes winners among the seven entries.
Leading the way is #4 Nest, a stoutly bred daughter of
Curlin out of the A.P. Indy mare Marion Ravenwood. The bay filly is a full
sibling to 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita H. (G1) winner Idol, and Nest has already
displayed abundant stamina of her own by finishing second against males in the
1 1/2-mile Belmont S. (G1).
Nest followed up this effort
with a stunning victory in the 1 1/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at
Saratoga. Putting her stamina to good use, Nest pressed and then set solid
fractions over a slow and tiring track, exhausting her pursuers before drawing
away to win by 12 1/4 lengths.
Nest figures to employ much
the same tactics in the Alabama. In a race that isn't overly stuffed with speed
horses, Nest should find herself setting or stalking the early tempo. If jockey
Irad Ortiz keeps the pace honest like in the Coaching Club American Oaks, it's
going to be tough for anyone to keep up with Nest's relentless strides.
The obvious choice for
second place is #7 Secret Oath, the
only filly to defeat Nest this year. Secret Oath's conquering performance came
over 1 1/8 miles in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), in which she launched a sweeping
outside rally to defeat Nest by two lengths.
But Nest endured a subtly
troubled trip in the Kentucky Oaks, waiting in traffic at a key point around
the far turn while Secret Oath swept by unencumbered. The tables were turned in
the Coaching Club American Oaks, where Secret Oath—normally a stretch
runner—wound up pressing the pace while racing wide. She was no match for Nest
down the homestretch, but to her credit, Secret Oath held on for second place
despite the challenging trip.
The big question for Secret
Oath is whether she wants to run 1 1/4 miles. Her secret weapon is a powerful
burst of acceleration around the far turn, which she's put to good use over
shorter trips (1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles), but which isn't necessarily
suited to a testing 1 1/4-mile journey. Nest has lost ground from the eighth
pole to the finish line in three of her four starts running 1 1/8 miles or
farther, so part of me wonders if Secret Oath is vulnerable while running her
longest race to date.
So who might steal the show
for second place? I don't think we can dismiss #3 Gerrymander from the mix. She's a daughter of Into Mischief
(sire of Kentucky Derby winners Authentic and Mandaloun) out of Ruby Lips (the
dam of long-winded dirt marathon runner Lone Rock), so Gerrymander should be
able to handle 1 1/4 miles.
Gerrymander has tactical
speed and even led gate-to-wire in the one-mile Tempted S. at Belmont Park last
fall, counting a then-inexperienced Nest among her beaten rivals. Even better,
Gerrymander was a dominant pace-tracking winner of the 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose
S. (G2) two months ago at Belmont, beating next-out Monmouth Oaks (G3) winner
Shahama by three lengths.
Gerrymander races for the
hot jockey/trainer duo of Joel Rosario and Chad Brown, who have gone 4-for-8
(50%) teaming up over the last two months per Brisnet statistics. Gerrymander
broke her maiden at Saratoga last summer and returns to the Spa with only two
runs under her belt this season, so it's not a stretch to think she could fire
her best effort yet in the Alabama. Beating Nest will be difficult, but an
exacta finish is well within reach.
Gazelle S. (G3) winner and Coaching
Club American Oaks third-place finisher #5
Nostalgic is a logical choice to round out the superfecta, but if you want
to toss a longshot into the mix, #1
Skratch Kat might be worth a look. The improving daughter of Arrogate
rallied to win an $80,000 allowance optional claimer racing 1 1/16 miles at
Churchill Downs last month and is eligible to move forward while stretching out
in distance for hot trainer Philip Bauer, who has gone 3-for-6 (50%) at
Saratoga this meet.
3rd: Secret Oath
4th: Skratch Kat
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Alabama?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.