Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saratoga Special: The Alabama

Although it gets 1/100000 of the attention of its male counterpart, there is a female equivalent version of the Triple Crown, called the Triple Tiara. What exact races have made up the Triple Tiara have varied over the years, but it's always been New York based, and it's always consisted of three races from the Acorn, Mother Goose, Coaching Club of America Oaks, and the Alabama. And every time it's been swept, it's by a quality horse. All 8 horses to sweep the series are in the Racing Hall of Fame, and two of them (Ruffian, Shuvee) are among the 10 best American fillies ever.

Today, in the 131st running of the Alabama, It's Tricky goes for the 9th sweep of the Triple Tiara. It hasn't been done since Sky Beauty pulled off the sweep in 1993. Can she do it? Let's take a look at the intriguing competition in the 10 furlong dirt race.

1. Royal Delta (6-1 morning line). The beaten favorite in the CCA Oaks, where she was bet down to favoritism off her high Gowanus Speed Figure in the Black Eyed Susan, where she won easily and beat Buster's Ready, who came back to win the Mother Goose. Trainer Bill Mott chose not to run her again until the CCA Oaks--9 weeks later--and when the serious running began, she came up empty. An optimistic read is that she needed the race off a layoff and could move forward here. We're a little more pessimistic, and think that it's more likely that the Black Eyed Susan was an outlier and the GSF is inflated. She's beautifully bred and has a right to improve, but we're looking elsewhere for the winner.

2. Pinch Pie (15-1). Has never had a speed figure decline in her seven races. Unfortunately, she started off with a 38 and has only wound up at a 78, and in a turf start at that. Not only is she too slow to compete with these, she's completely bereft of early speed and will be hard pressed to be a factor at all.

3. Plum Pretty (2-1). The likely early pacesetter, she won the Kentucky Oaks just off the front end, and followed that up with a pair of close seconds to putative division leaders Zazu and It's Tricky in the Hollywood Oaks and CCA Oaks. There's a chance she gets away with dominating the race on the front end because there isn't much other speed in the race, but we note that in her three races at 9 furlongs, she barely held on in the Kentucky Oaks and gave up the lead inside the sixteenth pole in the other two. It's tough to see how the extra distance is going to actually help her.

4. It's Tricky (9-5). She's actually underrated for a horse that's won 2 graded stakes and only lost once. The nicely bred Godolphin horse won her first three races at Aqueduct over last winter, which isn't exactly a proving ground for greatness, so they shipped her to Florida for the Gulfstream Park Oaks, where she foundered over a track that many horses don't like. Completely ignored in the Acorn, she went off at a generous 10-1, where she sat off a fairly lively pace set by a horse that folded easily and won easily over the talented Turbulent Descent (who came back and won clobbered the field in the Test). That said, the win was over the slop, which lead to her going off in the CCA Oaks at a fairly generous 4-1, and she prevailed willingly over Plum Pretty in the stretch.

She's well-bred (2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft out of a well-bred Tale of the Cat mare), is in the hands of a fabulous trainer (Kieran McLaughlin), and has tactical speed. There's no particular reason to think she can't go 10 furlongs. The only real downside with her is that she's difficult to train and ride, a little reminiscent of Coronado's Quest in 1998, who misbehaved his way out of the Triple Crown races. (And then went on to win the Haskell and Travers when his head was screwed on straight.) If she acts up, she might be vulnerable.

5. St. John's River (5-1). Exits a victory in the Delaware Oaks, which oddly, has been the best source for finding Alabama winners recently--the last three winners (Blind Luck, Careless Jewel and Proud Spell) all won it, and 2003 winner Island Fashion ran second in it. That actually isn't the race that impressed us, though, it was her runner up finish in the Kentucky Oaks where she drew the 13 post, settled back 16 lengths from the front, and rallied strongly into a moderate pace to just miss second to Plum Pretty. Her breeding is a little obscure (Include by a Private Account mare) but it's quite good for 10 furlongs. The question is whether she'll get enough pace to run at, but we think new jockey Robby Albarado is going to be pretty cognizent of this issue, and will have her more like 5-6 lengths off the lead than 15-16 back. If so, look out, because she's got the best closing kick of them all.

6. Inglorious (6-1). If the race were on synthetics she'd be 1-5, as she's 5 for 5 on the plastics, while a her two dirt starts were both losses in Louisiana. But it's worth noting that since being shipped back to Canada, she may have blossomed into a much better horse. She won a prep for the Woodbine Oaks, then won the Oaks, then stretched out to 10 furlongs and took on the Canadien boys in the Queens Plate and won that easily. As a result, she actually has the highest last race GSF, which is a positive expectation bet. Given her breeding is actually fine for the dirt and she didn't run too poorly in her two dirt starts, is it possible she's actually just turned into a good horse.

Pick. This is a fun race with a short field and only one true "toss". By process of elimination, we don't think Royal Delta is as good as the other horses in the field, and think Plum Pretty wants no part of 10 furlongs. As for the remaining three, there isn't a result that would shock us, but wer're going with the horse with the best stretch kick and distance breeding, and think St. John's River outkicks It's Tricky in the stretch while holding off Inglorious.

1. St. John's River 2. Inglorious 3. It's Tricky.

Enjoy the race!

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