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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Winner's Circle - Week Five at Saratoga Race Course

By | Sports

Alabama High Test

Fillies take center stage August 18 for the Grade 1 $600,000 TVG Alabama Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. Run at 10 furlongs, it is the longest race these fillies will ever run. Heading up the field will be Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can and Grade 1 Acorn winner Zo Impressive.


Believe You Can, trained by Larry Jones, has been training here at the Spa, turning in back-to-back five-furlong breezes. Back on August 6 she covered the distance in 1:02.10 and on August 13 she clocked in at 1:02.78. The daughter of Proud Citizen will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik.

Zo Impressive, owned by Live Oak Plantation and trained by Tom Albertrani, drilled five furlongs in 1:01.90 over the main track August 13. She lost to Questing in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks back on July 21. The question will be whether she can get the distance.

“I don’t think [Zo Impressive will] have a problem with [the Alabama’s 1 ¼-mile distance],” said Albertrani. “It looked like she was finishing in the last eighth of a mile in the Coaching Club. She was gaining a little bit late in the race. Maybe that was from [Questing] starting to get tired and drifting out, but I don’t see why she wouldn’t go a little further. She’s been very consistent; she’s been 1-2 in all of her starts. Hopefully she’ll run her race again.”

Her workout on Monday gave Albertrani reason she will turn in a Grade 1 effort.

“She worked very well this morning,” said trainer Tom Albertrani. “It looks like she’s keeping in good form, and that’s all we can ask for.”

Sea Island, another contender, turned in a bullet-like four-furlong breeze in 48.20 and Delaware Oaks winner Grace Hall arrived at Saratoga Monday.

The other Grade 1 race on August 18 is the Sword Dancer on the turf.

Also running the 1 ¼ mile distance will be the 3-year-old colts, but that won’t be for another week in the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Travers Stakes. The field is taking shape.

Grade 1 $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational winner Paynter won’t be making the trip as planned, since he came out of the Haskell with a fever. As a result the Bob Baffert-trained colt will be replaced by Liaison, who last finished third in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.

Baffert spoke with owner Ahmed Zayat about the decision to bench Paynter, who nearly won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes.

“We talked yesterday and this morning about it,” Baffert said. “It was going to be tough. I wouldn’t be able to get a work into him, and it would be too much. We’ll just get him right and get him back to full steam and nominate him everywhere.”

“Liaison is doing well,” Baffert said as his colt breezed five furlongs in just over one minute on Saratoga’s main track.

Stealcase, who most recently finished third in the Haskell, whipped through six furlongs in 1:12.53 on the Saratoga main track Monday.

“We were looking for a big work, and he delivered that. He went out three-quarters in 1:12 and seven-eighths in 1:25,” said Norman Casse, son and assistant to trainer Mark Casse. “You really can’t work any better than that, so it seems like we’re on track for the Travers at this point.”

In the Haskell, Stealcase hit the gate at the start and stuttered before he lost to Paynter by 8 ½ lengths.

“Stealcase has always been our favorite 3-year-old from the very beginning,” Casse said. “It just seems like he’s his own worst enemy and he hasn’t really put everything together. Even in the Haskell, had he broke better, he probably would have finished second. I don’t think we would have beaten Paynter that day, but we were going to be a lot closer. He’s always been knocking on the door; we’re just waiting for him to put it all together one time.”

The problem Stealcase may encounter is the noise of fans on the apron. This did him in at Monmouth and Saratoga will be no different for the Travers.

“He actually was standing perfectly in the gate at Monmouth Park,” said Casse, “and I was watching him down on the apron. As soon as the crowd roared a little bit when all the horses got in the gate and he was on the outside, he turned his head to look at the crowd and broke awkwardly.”

Jim Dandy winner Alpha turned in a four-furlong workout in 48.33 back on August 9 and is expected to run in the Travers as the favorite. Neck n’ Neck, Street Life, Five Sixteen, Nonios, Stealcase, Hansen, Cogito, Atigun and Teeth of the Dog are all probable for the Travers.

Don’t forget the older horses

With all this talk of 3-year-old colts and fillies, it’s easy to forget the older horses and the big races that lie ahead of them.

Royal Delta, last year’s winner of the Grade 1 Alabama and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, is gearing up for a go in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign the day after the Travers. The Empire Maker filly breezed five furlongs in 1:00.66 for trainer Bill Mott.

“Royal Delta had a very good work,” said Mott of the 4-year-old filly, who heads into the 1 1/8-mile Personal Ensign off victories in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap and the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs. “I think 1:01 and change would have been fine, but she went along pretty well. She went off the right way and finished up nice, too. We’re two weeks away, so a decent work was in order.”

Mott has also been bringing To Honor and Serve back into shape. The enigmatic 4-year-old turns in brilliant efforts and then inexplicably fires blanks. He might run on the final Saturday of the meet.

“There is a very good possibility To Honor and Serve could run in the Woodward,” said Mott. “He’s starting to act better, more like himself. With the weather being cooler, he’s eating better and acting better.”

Brendan O’Meara will be signing copies of his book “Six Weeks in Saratoga” Saturday night from 7-9 at Impressions. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOMeara.

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