The menu for this weekend's graded stakes action is "Fillies, fillies and more fillies". The Alabama and the Lake Placid take center stakes at Saratoga, while the Del Mar Oaks puts the spotlight on three-year-old turf fillies out in California.
-It's hard to not get just a little excited to watch the stakes races for the fillies this year when you consider the incredible amount of talent that line up in the gate for each event. Saturday's Alabama may only feature a field of six, but most of those six have a lot of class.
Let's start with Inglorious, since she's somewhat the "outsider" in this field. Inglorious is a perfect five-for-five on the Woodbine Polytrack, and 2-0-1-0 when racing on conventional dirt. She won the Woodbine Oaks and the Queen's Plate (against the boys) in her last two starts in Canada. And while her dirt tries have been decent, they are not as good as her Poly wins. She was 2nd to Kathmanblu in the G3-Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds, and 4th to Daisy Devine in the G2-Fair Grounds Oaks.
St. John's River finished 2nd in both the G2-Fair Grounds Oaks and G1-Kentucky Oaks before winning the G2-Delaware Oaks; and she's a nice 5/1 on the morning line. Those are the kinds of odds you get on a Kentucky Oaks runner-up when you are in a field with It's Tricky and Plum Pretty.
St. John's River is a bit of a grinder, a running style that I think will adapt fairly well to the mile and a quarter distance of the Alabama. The key for her will be to not give herself too much work to do in the stretch in order to catch the two favorites.
It's been a bit of a strange journey for Bill Mott's Royal Delta this year. She opened her account by running roughshod over a group of maidens at Belmont last fall by 12 lengths. Then, on her first start of 2011, she finished 14 ¾ lengths back of Wyomia in the Suncoast at Tampa; a 26+ lengths reversal of form. She bounced back (at Keeneland of all places) when she won an N1X race at a 8 ½ furlongs on the Polytrack in her first try on synthetics (a very rare occurrence in Keeneland routes). Sparked by a new found confidence, Royal Delta went on to win the G2-Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico by 2 ½ over Buster's Ready. At that point her tally was three wins by 17 ½ lengths, and one loss by 14 ¾. Her last start came in the G1-Coaching Club American Oaks where she finished 3rd to today's rivals of It's Tricky and Plum Pretty. Unfortunately, she was a well-beaten (7 ¼ lengths) 3rd.
So where do that leave us with Royal Delta coming into the Alabama. She's 6/1 on the morning line and she's shown flashes of brilliance at times in her career. At the same time, she was no match for the two favorites less than a month ago on this very same track; tough call for an intriguing filly.
I'm guessing that 2-Pinch Pie (15/1) will be scratched unless the track turns up sloppy/muddy. In her three career races on dirt, she's finished 2nd and 4th on tracks labeled "Sloppy" and "Good". Her only try on a dry track resulted in a 11 ¾ length loss.
Plum Pretty is going to try and take the field gate-to-wire, while It's Tricky will once again attempt a stalk-and-pounce strategy. I have no idea which one is going to get the best of it, but I'm looking forward to watching it unfold. Whether or not these two fillies click off fractions fast enough to set things up for a filly like Inglorious remains to be seen, but it seems likely that the two favorites will be the ones battling for the win in the final furlong.
-Sunday's G2-Lake Placid at Saratoga feathers emerging turf star Winter Memories, a brilliant El Prado filly that is a sparkling 6-5-1-0 in her career. Winter Memories simply destroyed her foes in the G2-Lake George after encountering a tough trip while rounding the far turn. She clocked the final 3/8th of the Lake George in a devastating 28.78...a split that includes the time she was blocked at the quarter pole. Toss in the fact that she was under restraint at the finish line and you have a filly with a brilliant turn of foot.
I'm curious as to how far Winter Memories can go. The Lake Placid will be her first attempt at nine furlongs but her pedigree suggests that added distance won't be much of an issue. Her dam, Memories of Silver, was an outstanding mare in her time. She won the G1-Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, G1-Beverly D., G2-Diana, and two other Grade 3 events. All told, Memories of Silver sported a record of 19-9-3-5 and banked $1.4 million in winnings.
Opposing Winter Memories in the Lake Placid is Kathmanblu, a filly that was impressive during her juvenile campaign but has since hit the wall in terms of her development. After winning the G3-Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds on February 19th, Kathmanblu has finished 3rd, 6th and 4th in her last three. Her most recent try saw her make a return to the grass only to run an extremely flat 4th in the G3-Regret. This appears to be a tough spot to get her career back on track.
-Following her impressive win in the G3-Boiling Sprints at Monmouth Park on June 25th, Summer Soiree ships all the way out to Del Mar for the Del Mar Oaks in her first attempt to win a Grade 1 on the lawn. The Boiling Sprints was Summer Soiree's first try on the grass and it was an impressive display of gate-to-wire speed.
There isn't a ton of speed in the Del Mar Derby, which should set things up very nicely for Winter Memories (and Nereid). However, there have been 42 route races on the turf during the current Del Mar meet and only 5 (12%) of those races have been won by a horse leading after a ½ mile. That's a statistic that the stretch-running Cambia (IRE) loves to see.
Cambia appears to have adapted well to racing on this side of the Atlantic. After a disappointing 6ht in her North American debut in January, Cambia has won four of her last six races, including scores in the G3-La Habra, G2-Providencia, and dead-heat win in the G1-American Oaks with Nereid.