SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) - Three of the last four champion 3-year-old females share one thing in common: They won the Alabama Stakes during the summer meeting at Saratoga Race Course.
On Saturday, seven runners, led by slight favorite Grace Hall, will try to claim the $600,000 Grade I stakes in this year's 1 1/4-mile edition.
``(The division is) wide open right now,'' said Tony Dutrow, who trains Grace Hall. ``There is a half-dozen of fillies out there who have their name on the ballot right now. The Alabama has been an iconic race for many, many, many years. That's why it's such a tough race every year. Everyone who has a promising 3-year-old filly circles the Alabama on their calendars.''
Grace Hall, who will be ridden by Javier Castellano, returns to the scene of her first graded stakes victory, last year's Spinaway. Her only loss as a 2-year-old was a runner-up performance behind the eventual divisional champion My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
She finished second in her first start at age 3, the Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and then won the Gulfstream Park Oaks. She was defeated at the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks in early May but rebounded with a victory in the July 14 Delaware Oaks, her most recent start.
Questing, the convincing winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks early in this meeting, is a strong threat to Grace Hall. Irad Ortiz is the rider.
``She's been doing great since the Coaching Club,'' trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. ``She's training well and is happy. Hopefully she can keep doing what she has been doing. We just have to hope she can repeat the performance.''
The Alabama field, from the rail out: Sea Island (Joel Rosario), Zo Impressive (Rajiv Maragh Jr.), Grace Hall (Castellano), Uptown Bertie (Cory Lanerie), Via Villaggio (Corey Nakatani), Questing (Ortiz), and In Lingerie (John Velazquez).
Also Saturday, the $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational, run at 1 1/2 miles on the turf, has drawn a field of nine including pre-race favorite Turbo Compressor, winner of the United Nations Handicap in his last start for trainer Todd Pletcher.