November 30, 2023

Stellar field of nine in Alabama; La Coronel back in Lake Placid

Holy Helena was much the best over males in the 158th Queen's Plate (Photo courtesy Holly Smith)

Even without division leader Abel Tasman, Saturday’s $600,000 Alabama (G1) at Saratoga has come up as good a race for three-year-old fillies as any seen this year.

Several in the historic 1 1/4-mile fixture will lay claim for second in the division pecking order with a victory. One is the long-winded Holy Helena, a Canadian-bred in search of her first non-restricted stakes win following back-to-back wins in the Woodbine Oaks and Queen’s Plate, the latter over males going 10 furlongs.

A debut second at Aqueduct in April and a maiden winner at Belmont the following month, Holy Helena looks to give trainer Jimmy Jerkens his first win in the Alabama, a race his late father, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, won three times.

Another late bloomer is Unchained Melody, who debuted in March and won two of her first three outings before comfortably taking the Mother Goose (G2) by three lengths in her initial stakes outing. The Brian Lynch charge will be racing beyond 1 1/16 miles and around two turns for the first time in the Alabama.

“I don’t think there is a lot of speed, so if she’s comfortable on the lead, then I’ll leave her alone,” Lynch said. “She’s been good. A lot of horses do well up here this time of year and she appears to be one of them.”

Breeders’ Cup winner New Money Honey is one of two in the Alabama field with a 10-furlong victory (Adam Coglianese Photography)

New Money Honey has done all her racing on turf to this point, but the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) and Belmont Oaks (G1) winner, the latter over 1 1/4 miles, will expand her horizons for trainer Chad Brown. The filly’s by Medaglia d’Oro, the 2002 Travers (G1) winner.

“I’m excited about trying her on the dirt; this filly has been training super,” Brown said. “It’s something I’ve always thought about; running her on the dirt now seems like the right time to try it. The distance of the race should really suit her.”

One filly not at all unhappy about Abel Tasman’s absence is Salty, the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) winner who finished behind that rival in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Acorn (G1), and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) in her last three starts for trainer Mark Casse.

“Salty is doing really well and we’re excited,” said Norm Casse, assistant and son of Mark. “She still has some questions to answer about her preferred distance, but we know she likes it here and likes the racetrack. Had she not broken so poorly, she would have been right there in the Coaching Club, so she deserves every opportunity to run.”

Looking to pick up their first graded stakes wins of their careers are Lockdown, who’s placed in the Gazelle (G2), Kentucky Oaks, and Mother Goose, and Elate, who ran Abel Tasman to a head decision last out in the Coaching Club American Oaks.

It Tiz Well is a dual Grade 3 winner for Jerry Hollendorfer, who previously saddled champions Blind Luck and Songbird to victory in the Alabama. She exits a half-length win in the Delaware Oaks (G3), but the contender that might emerge from that race is Actress, who might have found the 1 1/16-mile distance far too short. Actress had previously rallied from 19 lengths down to break her maiden in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico May 19.

The field is rounded out by Mopotism, a rough-trip second as the favorite in the Indiana Oaks (G3) last time for Doug O’Neill. The stakes winner also boasts placings in the Starlet (G1), Las Virgenes (G2), and Summertime Oaks (G2).

La Coronel cruised in the Appalachian (G3) earlier this year (c) Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos

La Coronel, arguably the leading three-year-old turf filly in the country, makes her return to action in the $300,000 Lake Placid (G2) over 1 1/8 miles.

Conqueror of New Money Honey in the Appalachian (G3) in April and a follow-up scorer in the Edgewood (G3), the Casse-trained filly most recently competed in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot, finishing fifth of seven behind superstar filly Winter.

“I think she’s doing really well,” Norman Casse said. “I don’t think the trip back took anything out of her. She’s had a couple of [breezes] over the Oklahoma turf track, and they’ve all been pretty good works so we’re excited to get her back going here. It’s one of those circumstances where they’re running two different races, same day at two different racetracks, so everybody is separated a little bit. But hopefully we’ll get her back going again.”

Among the five in opposition are Uni, a rallying third in the Belmont Oaks in her U.S. debut, and the Lake George (G3) one-two Proctor’s Ledge and Party Boat.