SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Who knows, if it hadn't rained in Hallandale Beach, Florida, on Dec. 16, 2018, maybe Point of Honor wouldn't be a top contender for Saturday's 139th Alabama at Saratoga Race Course.
She was set to make her career debut in a turf race on the Gulfstream Park card that day, but the race was moved off the turf and onto the main track.
Point of Honor won by six lengths, and although she still could turn into a nice grass horse someday, that day will not be anytime soon. She went on to win the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico on Preakness weekend, and just fell short to Guarana in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 21, so trainer George Weaver likes his shot with her in the mile-and-a-quarter Alabama.
"When it came off the turf, I was OK with it, because she had trained well enough on the dirt," he said Wednesday morning. "They actually had a flat mile race on the dirt to enter her that day, and I thought about doing that and then just decided on the two-turn race.
"Anyway, it ended up working out and she hasn't given us a reason to go back on the turf since that time. Anyway, we're looking forward to the Alabama."
The field for the $600,000 Alabama, in post position order, will be: Dunbar Road, Lady Apple, Afleet Destiny, Champagne Anyone, Street Band, Ulele, Point of Honor, Off Topic and Kelsey's Cross.
Point of Honor is a chestnut daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin co-owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Stetson Racing LLC.
Weaver had worked her a few times on the turf prior to her first race, and was confident she would do well on dirt or grass, but entered the Gulfstream race because it was around two turns over a route of ground. He said he "didn't want her getting discouraged chasing speed down the backside" in a one-turn sprint race.
After the off-the-turf maiden win at Gulfstream, she ran an eye-opener in the $100,000 Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs, indicating to Weaver that she could take a swing at graded stakes.
"When you win a maiden race against kind of ordinary competition, even if you do it stylishly, you don't really know," he said. "But for her, first time against winners is usually tough, and when we ran her at Tampa, the way she won that race, we were clearly starting to figure out that she might be something special. And she was much better than she touted herself in the morning [during training]."
After a two-length loss in fourth to Champagne Anyone in the Grade II Gulfstream Park, the real breakthrough came in the Black-Eyed Susan, where Point of Honor got up in time to beat Ulele by a half-length under Javier Castellano, who has ridden all four of her 2019 starts.
"It was big. Graded stakes winners are hard to come by," Weaver said. "We've had a few of them over the years, but this year we've been very fortunate to have a couple really good 3-year-olds, one a colt and one a filly, with Vekoma and Point of Honor. It's nice having a good horse.
"She never really trained that good. She ran pretty well first time out and then I guess we decided to run in that race at Tampa, and definitely after the Tampa race, we knew she was good."
Vekoma, who won the Grade II Blue Grass before finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby, has been on the farm healing a hoof after kicking himself during a workout in June. He's supposed to resume his season in the fall.
Castellano was aboard for Point of Honor's five-furlong work on the Oklahoma Training Track last Friday. She was clocked in 1:05.82.
"She worked well the other day," Weaver said. "The time was slow, but Javier was on her, and he said he was very happy with her, so she should be ready to go."
Weaver has had just one Alabama starter, Tizahit, who won the Demoiselle as a 2-year-old and then didn't win again in six starts as a 3-year-old before being retired.
At 37-1, she was the longest shot on the toteboard for the 2010 Alabama and finished fifth of six behind a stirring duel won by Blind Luck by a neck over Havre de Grace.
Weaver has a much better chance to win it this time, especially since an extra eighth of a mile from the CCA Oaks distance should help, as long as there's an honest pace up front.
"Oh, yeah, we've been looking forward to this race for a long time," he said. "Her pedigree and her style of running fits the distance very well. I thought the Coaching Club was a great race. She kind of likes to be on the outside, so you're going to lose a little bit of ground.
"She was starting to make up some significant ground late, but a little too late. But we're very happy with her performance, and hopefully she goes back over there and runs just as good."
The Alabama field is expected to include Mother Goose winner Dunbar Road, Champagne Anyone, Ulele, Street Band, Lady Apple and Afleet Destiny.
Guarana is scheduled to cut back in distance from her CCA Oaks win and run in the Cotillion on the Pennsylvania Derby card at Parx on Sept. 21.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.