by TERESA GENARO
The public had a tough time deciding on a favorite in Saturday’s Alabama (G1) at Saratoga, sending four horses to the post with odds between 4.20 and 4.50-1.
And when the horses hit the wire, the public just barely got it wrong, with third choice Elate cruising to victory, getting her first Grade 1 win in the $600,000 race.
Racing off the rail and well off the pace under Jose Ortiz, the three-year-old Claiborne Farm/Adele Dilschneider homebred let longshot It Tiz Well set a salty pace before making up ground coming around the final turn. Running in the two path, Elate engaged a stubborn It Tiz Well before pulling away to win by a decisive 5 1/2 lengths. It Tiz Well hung for second, with Salty finishing third.
Cleverly named, Elate is out of Cheery, by Distorted Humor, whose dam, out of Wild Applause, was christened Yell. She’s by Medaglia d’Oro, a mating for which Claiborne’s Seth Hancock refused to take credit.
“Medaglia d’Oro has had phenomenal success with Distorted Humor mares,” he said. “That ground has already been plowed. It’s nothing I invented.”
And while the winning filly’s connections were as jubilant as the filly’s name suggested, the connections of Unchained Melody, who came to the race with three wins in four starts, including a win in the Mother Goose (G2) at Belmont in July, had to endure watching the Smart Strike filly pull up at the top of the stretch, hope and excitement turning to dismay.
Jockey Joel Rosario said immediately after the race that the filly tired and back up and that he thought she wasn’t injured.
“She was steady,” Rosario said. “She just didn’t want to do it. She was feeling fine physically; she just got tired.”
His impression confirmed shortly thereafter by Jack Brothers of Hidden Brook Farm, co-owners of Unchained Melody.
“She’s cooled out fine,” he texted. “Nothing apparent right now.”
The win in the Alabama was the first for Claiborne and Dilschneider, who walked the filly into the winner’s circle in her bare feet, as well as for Ortiz. Trainer Bill Mott won the race with Royal Delta in 2011 and with Sweet Symphony in 2005. Mott’s other entrant in this year’s Alabama, Lockdown, finished sixth.
“There was no pressure” to win, said Mott. “I just wanted the win for the filly and for the connections. You couldn’t have a better owner than (Dilschneider). She loves her horses and she was looking forward to this as much as I was.”
Dilschneider and Hancock watched their filly run an agonizing loss to Abel Tasman a month ago in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), a mere head keeping Elate from her first graded stakes win.
“That was heartbreaking,” Hancock said. “But this makes up for it, for sure.”