By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The $600,000 Alabama S. (G1)
at Saratoga is often a predictable race. Seven of the last 10 editions have
been won by favorites starting at odds of 1.75-1 or less.
But once in a while,
something unexpected happens. Like in 2018, when 9-1 longshot Eskimo Kisses
launched a last-to-first rally from behind a quick pace to dominate by 6 1/2
lengths. Or in 2015, when 6-1 shot Embellish the Lace escaped on an uncontested
lead and wired a deep field.
The 2023 Alabama is taking
place this Saturday, and the 1 1/4-mile race appears ripe for an unexpected
outcome. The 10-horse field is packed with talent; six of the fillies have
either won or placed at the Grade 1 level. But the majority haven't run very
fast on the Beyer Speed Figure scale, including expected favorite #2 Wet Paint, a three-time graded
stakes winner who put up a modest 89 Beyer when rallying to victory in the 1
1/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga last month.
A case of some sort can be
made for almost any of the entrants to visit the winner's circle. #3 Julia Shining isn't the fastest entrant
on paper, but the Ashland S. (G1) third-place finisher is bred to relish racing
1 1/4 miles, considering her full-sister Malathaat won this race two years. #10 Defining Purpose has tactical
speed, upset the Ashland during the spring, and recently returned to peak form
with a victory in the Indiana Oaks (G3). #7
Gambling Girl unleashed a big rally to finish second in the Kentucky Oaks
(G1) two starts back, #6 Chocolate
Gelato was good enough to win the Frizette S. (G1) as a juvenile, and the improving
#1 Sacred Wish failed by just a neck
to hold off Wet Paint in the Coaching Club American Oaks.
I won't argue with anyone
who wants to pick one of the half-dozen fillies listed above. But personally, I'm
keen to support #8 Randomized and #9 Taxed.
Randomized is an
up-and-coming daughter of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist, and she brings an
interesting profile to the Alabama. She kicked off 2023 with a gate-to-wire
victory in a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct, trouncing her rivals
by 5 1/2 lengths. She subsequently misfired when stepping up in class for the 1
1/16-mile Acorn S. (G1) at Belmont Park, finishing sixth, but rebounded at
Saratoga last month to wire the one-mile Wilton S. with a 97 Beyer Speed Figure
that tops the Alabama field.
Stepping back up in class
and stretching out over 1 1/4 miles are major hurdles for Randomized to
overcome, but she comes in as the fastest filly on paper and should be
dangerous if allowed to secure an uncontested lead.
All that said, my top choice
is Taxed. A former claimer, Taxed spent five of her first six starts racing on
or close to the lead with mixed results, performing best when finishing second behind
Wet Paint in the 1 1/16-mile Martha Washington S. at Oaklawn Park.
But Taxed has since changed
running styles, dropping farther off the early pace, and this shift has
coincided with significant improvement. In the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy S. (G3) at
Oaklawn, she had to wait in traffic around the far turn while Wet Paint
launched a winning outside rally, but Taxed fought on gamely once clear to
snatch second place.
No such traffic troubles
unfolded in the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan S. (G2) at Pimlico, in which Taxed
launched a strong rally to beat next-out Monomoy Girl S. winner Hoosier Philly
and four-time graded stakes winner Faiza by 3 3/4 lengths.
Taxed enters the Alabama off
a deceptively good runner-up finish in the Indiana Oaks (G3). After dropping
back to seventh place behind pedestrian fractions of :24.12, :49.06, 1:14.00, she
finished fast (running her final five-sixteenths of a mile in approximately
:29.58) to finish second by 1 1/4 lengths against the pace-tracking winner
Taxed has made a lot of
progress this year, and if she gets a better pace setup in the Alabama, I'm
confident she can launch a winning rally down the homestretch. Best of all, her
defeat in the Indiana Oaks should guarantee that she starts at enticing odds.
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.