SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 3-year-old male division is anybody’s ballgame right now.
The 3-year-old fillies, meanwhile, have a clearcut ho-hum no-brainer leader in Abel Tasman, who has won three straight Grade I races, the Kentucky Oaks, the Acorn and the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course.
Trainer Brian Lynch would like to see his filly, Unchained Melody, make things a little more interesting.
She’s the likely favorite for next Saturday’s Alabama, and after she put together a professional final public workout on the main track Friday morning, Unchained Melody is primed to add to her short but increasingly impressive resume.
“I’m hoping that after the Alabama she’s considered to be right there with Abel Tasman,” Lynch said. “I’m hoping she’s one of the better fillies as the year goes on.”
Unchained Melody still needs to pile on some big wins to achieve that.
Unraced as a 2-year-old as her co-owners, Hidden Brook Farm and Hare Forest Farm, patiently waited for her to grow into her big frame, Unchained Melody has climbed the ladder from maiden to allowance winner to graded stakes winner, taking the Grade II Mother Goose at Belmont Park in just her fourth career start. Her only loss was a second by 3 1/2 lengths to Our Majesty at Keeneland in her second start.
With new rider Joel Rosario, the daughter of Smart Strike won the Mother Goose on the front end despite angling almost nine paths wide in the stretch, then dipping sharply back inside to finish three lengths ahead of the Bill Mott-trained Lockdown.
Lynch attributed that to a combination of lack of experience in the filly and riding tactics by Rosario.
“She drifted a little bit down the lane at Belmont,” he said. “That’s a unique race, the one-turn mile. It’s a long run down the backside, and it’s a long run down the lane. I know Joel had it in his mind that Billy’s filly was coming up on the outside and he was going to try to drift her out as far as he could. That’s why she ended up where she was.
“But I don’t think it was for any other reason than she was still a little unseasoned and started to get a bit tired. She had enough gas in her to kick again.”
At a mile and a quarter, the Alabama represents a substantial stretchout in distance for Unchained Melody, who hasn’t raced farther than a mile and a sixteenth.
In the Mother Goose, she was able to get away from the field in the first quarter-mile, at which point she was able to take advantage of what Lynch considers her best tool, consistently ticking off quarters at a high speed.
“I thought that race had a lack of speed in there,” Lynch said. “She’s got a high cruising speed, so I said to Joel that if she breaks well and she’s comfortable on the lead, then don’t be afraid to leave her where she is.
“I think she ran a pretty quick first quarter there, which is one of her assets. I think she’s got a little early speed and can open up on them, and then she relaxes and she’s got such a high cruising speed that she can maintain.”
In Friday’s breeze, officially 1:01.78 for five furlongs, Unchained Melody worked with Meantime, the Peter Pan runner-up who was eighth in the Belmont Stakes.
He’s scheduled to run in an allowance race on the Alabama card, so it made sense for them to work together, Lynch said, and he added a dimension to the breeze by sending them from the starting gate. Rosario was on Unchained Melody, and Joe Bravo rode Meantime.
“He hadn’t run in awhile, so I wanted him to have a nice gate drill, and I wanted her to have a gate work where she can sit off another horse and relax,” Lynch said. “I thought the boys did a good job with it. Meantime’s no slouch, it was a nice tune-up work for her and she sat back off him and joined him nice around the turn. Joel was very happy with it.
“She gets through her work. She’s not going to put any more into it than you ask her to.”
The filly who likes to be in front in her races is playing catch-up in the big picture.
Trainer Bob Baffert is skipping the Alabama with Abel Tasman and could come back against older horses in the Personal Ensign a week later on Travers Day, or wait even longer for the Cotillion at Parx in September.
“Anytime you duck a horse like that, you’re certainly glad, but I think she [Abel Tasman] ran very, very hard here the other day, and if she came back, it might’ve been a good time to have caught her,” Lynch said. “But, anything Bob sends out, you’ve got to respect."