Betting for an Alabama Upset

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 Defining Purpose.

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.

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