A trio of the runners in today’s Grade I Alabama know from recent experience why Stopchargingmaria is the easy favorite.
Unbridled Forever, Miss Besilu and America finished 2-3-4 behind Stopchargingmaria here in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20, by five, nine and 12 lengths, respectively. They will take another shot today at Saratoga Race Course in the 1 1⁄4-mile Alabama for fillies 3 years old, hoping the extra furlong works to their advantage. However, the way Stopchargingmaria drew away under Javier Castellano in the CCA Oaks showed the extra furlong may be no problem for her.
“She finished very well at a mile and an eighth,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “She’s won three races at a mile and an eighth, so that certainly gives you optimism. Of course, a mile and a quarter is a different animal, but we’re optimistic based on the way she’s run and the way she’s trained.”
With a win today, 2-1 morning-line favorite Stopchargingmaria would become the third consecutive filly to capture the CCA Oaks-Alabama double. Princess of Sylmar — owned by Schenectady native Ed Stanco — did it last year, and Questing did it in 2012.
John Velazquez will climb aboard Stopchargingmaria, as Castellano is at Arlington Park today to ride Real Solution for Mechanicville’s Chad Brown in the Arlington Million. Brown, too, will be at Arlington Park, where he also has a pair in the Grade I Beverly D. Rosie Napravnik takes over on Unbridled Forever for Joel
Rosario, who will be riding several races on the undercard of the Arlington Million.
In the CCA Oaks, Miss Besilu set the pace through honest fractions of :48 for the first half-mile and 1:36 for a mile, and that suited the stalking style of Stopchargingmaria just fine. However, the speed in the Alabama race may come from Catch My Drift — a 12-1 filly making her stakes debut for Brown — who has shown a propensity for going out a bit faster. And the Bill Mott-trained Iowa Oaks winner Size has shown she can catch a fast pacesetter in the stretch. Stopchargingmaria’s first two races this year, the Grade II Davona Dale and Grade III Fantasy, both saw faster paces than the CCA Oaks, and in both, Stopchargingmaria failed to exhibit the late speed she had in July.
Unbridled Forever trainer Dallas Stewart has seen his filly finish second and third to the likes of Stopchargingmaria and division-leading Untapable several times this year. He said he thinks today could be the day Unbridled Forever, the 4-1 second choice, gets over the hump and gets her picture taken in the winner’s enclosure.
“I think that the distance will be beneficial to her, the added distance,” he said. “She’s trained very well since her last race, put on weight, energy’s good; everything that we like to see leading up to a big race and coming out of a big race. So, I’m feeling real good for her. I hope she has a good trip and is able to prove herself.
“If there’ll be a little bit of pace, it’d be nice. If not, she can stalk. She’s versatile, especially going a mile and a quarter.”
Unbridled Forever’s most recent work, and only published work here, was a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 2⁄5 on Aug. 8. Stewart said she’s been enthusiastic in the mornings and looking healthy.
“She’s been very much on the bit,” Stewart said. “We like to see that, encouraged about that, encouraged by the way she’s been eating. She’s put on weight, energy’s good, she’s sound and we’re happy with that.”
Another filly looking to break through in stakes company is Got Lucky, another Pletcher trainee, who was second in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds and in the Grade II Gazelle at Aqueduct before finishing a distant seventh in the Kentucky Oaks.
Got Lucky returned to the races after 2 1⁄2 months away from competition to win an allowance here by a neck on July 23. Velazquez came back from that race and told Pletcher she might need a change in equipment.
“It’s something we had talked about,” Pletcher said. “Johnny felt like she was a little unfocused in her last race, so we worked her in blinkers, and we thought we saw an improvement.”
BROWN’S TOP TWO
In the Grade II Lake Placid, the 1 1⁄8-mile turf run for 3-year-old fillies, Brown has the favored Minorette at 7-5 and second choice Xcellence at 9-5.
Minorette is 1-1-1 from her last three starts, including a win in the Belmont Oaks Invitational in her last start, July 5. All seven of her career starts have been on good turf, which was the condition of the course after Friday morning showers.
Xcellence was fourth in the Belmont Oaks, four lengths behind Minorette, while trained by Doumen Francois in her first North American start. Owner Martin Schwarz has since moved the filly to Brown’s barn.
Crown Queen, a half-sister to Royal Delta and trained by Mott, is the third choice at 5-2. She is 2-0-2 from her four career starts, including wins in her last two — a maiden special weight at Belmont Park and an allowance here on July 20.