Saturday’s Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga gives you another glimpse of standout filly Swiss Skydiver, who figures to take most of the money and figures to go off at odds-on.
It also gives you a rare glimpse of fillies doing something few American fillies and mares do – run 1 ¼ miles. And pay attention, because you probably won’t see any of the seven 3-year-old fillies run 10 furlongs again in their careers, no matter how long or short they are.
It’s that 10-furlong distance, above every other factor, that looms large in the Alabama Stakes, which doubles as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” avenue to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Notably, that race, this November at Keeneland, is 1 1/8 miles.
Run every year since 1872 – making it three years older than the Kentucky Derby – the Alabama Stakes boasts a notable winner’s roll that includes Songbird (2016), Royal Delta (2011), Go For Wand (1990), and Desert Vixen (1973). It provides the girls their 1 ¼-mile test one week after the boys endured theirs at the Travers Stakes.
Branching Out Before Climbing the Kentucky Oaks
What the Alabama Stakes also does is give some of these fillies their final tune-up before next month’s Kentucky Oaks. That in itself adds an interesting plot twist to the proceedings, since Oaks-bound fillies, such as even-money favorite Swiss Skydiver, will run the 10 furlongs on Saturday. Then, 20 days later, they’ll come back and run nine in the Oaks.
This translates into the Alabama’s second plot twist. If you’re going to get Swiss Skydiver, who has won three consecutive stakes races against fillies and mares, this may be the time. Her only loss this year came against the boys in the Blue Grass Stakes last month at Keeneland, when Art Collector got her down the stretch.
And keep in mind as you realize Swiss Skydiver beat 11 other colts, that Art Collector is likely the Kentucky Derby’s second choice behind Tiz the Law.
Distance Could Be a Weight on Swiss Skydiver
That said, the 10 furlongs is a mild concern, as is what will be a prohibitive cratering of Swiss Skydiver’s odds. So with that, who else bears attention?
Start with Spice is Nice (3/1). Yes, Swiss Skydiver destroyed the Todd Pletcher trainee by more than 10 lengths at March’s Gulfstream Park Oaks. A closer, Spice is Nice had no prayer, given the modest pace in that race. But if you can put that aside, you get a filly in fine form coming off a resounding allowance victory at Belmont Park last month.
You also get a Curlin progeny, meaning from a breeding standpoint, Spice is Nice should find 10 furlongs a run in the park. Bettors should find the value she’ll provide a walk in the park – to the betting window.
Can Swiss Skydiver’s Dorm Mate Steal the Show?
Two other contenders bear note, especially for vertical exotic wagers. The first is Swiss Skydiver’s stablemate in the Kenny McPeek barn — Envoutante (8/1). While her stablemate was tangling with the boys at Keeneland last month, Envoutante was finishing third at the Grade 1 Ashland Oaks that weekend.
Her first romp in a Grade 1 should set up Envoutante nicely here, as should her pedigree to handle 10 furlongs and the fact she hasn’t missed the board in four starts.
Finishing right behind Envoutante in the Ashland Oaks was Bonny South (8/1), who had her three-race winning streak snapped that day when she simply didn’t show up. That halted not only her streak, but an upward Equibase Speed Figure progression. Two starts ago, Bonny South blitzed the field at the Fair Ground Oaks in Louisiana, and a repeat of that performance puts her in the mix here.
Morning Line (Jockey)
- Envoutante, 8/1 (Jose Ortiz)
- Spice is Nice, 3/1 (John Velazquez)
- Crystal Ball, 9/2 (Javier Castellano)
- Bonny South, 8/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr.)
- Swiss Skydiver, Even (Tyler Gaffalione)
- Harvey’s Lil Goil, 10/1 (Junior Alvarado)
- Fire Coral, 30/1 (Rafael Santana Jr.)
One more candidate warrants attention, if not on top of your tickets, then someplace underneath: Harvey’s Lil Goil (10/1). Another victim of Swiss Skydiver, this time at May’s Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn, Harvey’s Lil Goil rebounded from that dismal 11th-place finish, winning the Grade 3 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs in late June for her third victory in four races. And stamina won’t be a problem for the daughter of American Pharoah and Gloria S.
The pick: Spice is Nice. Again, if you’re going to get Swiss Skydiver looking ahead to a more comfortable distance and more glittery digs at the Kentucky Oaks, here’s where you get her. Make no mistake, however, Swiss Skydiver deserves to be on every one of your tickets: vertical and horizontal.