Lots At Stake Saturday As Girl Power Goes Coast To Coast…

3 Year Old Fillies On Display In Grade I Alabama & Grade I Del Mar Oaks

There is certainly a lot on the line for the owners and trainers of Top Graded Stakes Division runners this Saturday as "Girl Power" will be on display at Both Saratoga and Del Mar as many of the best 3-year old fillies in training go at it in the Grade I Alabama and Grade I Del Mar Oaks.
Each of the three year old filly stakes features a contentious field of runners with 9 at Saratoga and 10 at Del Mar. And one thing is definitely worth noting. Both fields are deep enough that no matter how you attack them, either horizontally with straight bets or vertically in the exotics, the prospective returns are more than worthy of our attention.


In the Grade I Alabama Stakes, which will be run at a mile and a quarter on the Saratoga main track 8 well-meant fillies will make an effort to slow down ML favorite Stopchargingmaria, who enters the affair  following a dominant win here on opening weekend in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks. Based on her last two performances, the 5 length draw away win in the CCA Oaks and her hard fought victory in the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico on Preakness Eve the daughter of Tale Of The Cat has earned her 2-1 favoritism.

On the plus side Stopchargingmaria has once again found what might be considered a soft spot as five of her eight opponents are rivals she has recently handled while the other three, Got Lucky, Catch My Drift and Size will be facing her for the first time.

Until her last two races, Stopchargingmaria showed flashes for trainer Todd Pletcher but had not yet climbed into the Top Echelons of the division. All that changed in both the Black Eyed Susan and CCA Oaks when she measured the fields from tracking positions, utilized a high turn of tactical speed and ran down her rivals late. Interestingly, the filly's high turn has coincided with Pletcher switching from John Velazquez to Javier Castellano for the last two (due in large part to a Velazquez injury) but Castellano will be in Chicago (more on that below) to ride in all three Arlington Stakes races, including Alterite in the Beverly D and Real Solution in the Arlington Million for Chad Brown so Velazquez will be reunited with the filly. She has worked twice since the CCA Oaks win, with a sharp half mile breeze last Saturday and in her current form will be tough to defeat, but her last two have been her career best and with young fillies there is always the potential for bounce so at short odds she is not a given.

Looking to defeat her will be a trio of rivals who also faced her in the recent Oaks.

Unbridled Forever was sent off as the 8-5 second favorite to Maria's 6-5 in the Oaks and ran second. While no match in the latter stages of the mile and an eighth test she did continue on to clearly secure runner up honors after breaking near the back of the pack and going 3 wide on the far turn. While she has picked up ground in her recent races she has never truly threatened the winners and while a candidate to once again grab a share it is likely to be a minor one. With regular rider Joel Rosario joining Javier Castellano in grabbing frequent flyer miles as he will also be riding in Arlington on Saturday, Rosie Napravnik takes over for Dallas Stewart.

Miss Besilu was a distant third in the field of 6 in the CCA Oaks and while bred for the 10 furlong Alabama distance (a daughter of Medaglia D'Oro) the Bill Mott filly has lost ground in the lane in 3 of her last 4, all at shorter distances so while she is liable to make a move at the leaders at some point on the far turn, or based on her change of tactics toward the front in her last actually has the lead in a race that doesn't feature much dead-on early foot, being there at the end looks negligible.

America, another (uncoupled) Bill Mott entrant was a distant fourth in the CCA Oaks and is another filly that has been picking up a few minor awards facing tough company since breaking her maiden in career start number two back in October. But in six subsequent tries (all vs Graded foes she has managed only a pair of third place finishes and would have to complete a stretch run she has been unable to as she is still eligible for NW2L.

The other two runners that have faced Stopchargingmaria in the past are Joint Return and Fortune Pearl.

Joint Return will be looking to not only turn the tables on the favorite but also on Fortune Pearl, who has beaten her under the wire the last two times they have faced each other.

In the Grade II Delaware Oaks six weeks ago Fortune Pearl (3-1) and Joint Return (the 8-5 favorite) broke last and next to last respectively in the mile and a sixteenth test and the latter followed the former all the way around as both came running in the lane with Fortune Pearl claiming a 2 length victory while Joint Return edged a rival for the place.

Fortune Pearl also took the measure of Joint Return when they were 3rd and fourth in the Black Eyes Susan by almost the same margin of separation. In that mile and an eighth race Fortune Pearl stalked closer to the pace while Joint Return once again left herself too much to do before unleashing a strong late run. Both figure to be in the mix by mid-stretch and it is a tough call to decide if the added distance and addition of blinkers to Joint Return's equipment will reverse positions. One thing is worth mentioning and that is the ML odds. It is noted that Fortune Pearl went off at 3-1 and Joint Return at 8-5 in Delaware while now they are 8-1 and 15-1 respectively.

Three "newcomers" to the familiar competition of the others are Got Lucky, Catch My Drift and Size.

Got Lucky seems the most potent of the three if for no other reason than trainer Todd Pletcher sending out the (uncoupled) Hill 'N' Dale Equine Holdings daughter of A.P. Indy against his favored entrant.

The well traveled filly has only one bad effort in seven lifetime starts and that was two races back when she hesitated at the start and then was bumped shortly thereafter in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at CD on Derby eve. Although a longshot that day behind division leader Untapable, she rebounded off a useful break to tune up for this by dropping into allowance company to rally for a sharp win in a 9 furlong test here on July 23 in 1:51 1/5 (a time that is very solid compared to the times turned in for that distances in many of the races at the meet.) Prior to the Kentucky Oaks debacle and return win she was a strong rallying second in the Grade II Gazelle at Aqueduct and a good second behind Untapable in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in late February. Digging deep enough you also find a sharp second in career race number two, while still a maiden, when beaten a neck in the Grade II Demoiselle by none other than Stopchargingmaria. With blinkers on, a pair of good works since her comeback win and breeding that suggests 10 furlongs is in the wheelhouse she could be an upsetter.

The race rounds out with undefeated 2-for-2 filly Catch My Drift, who steps up from an entry level allowance win at Monmouth at a mile seventy in her last and gets tested for class by trainer Chad Brown and Size, a third Bill Mott runner, who ships here after winning the sloppy Grade III Iowa Oaks in her fourth career start and first beyond 6 furlongs. The daughter of Pioneerof The Nile has worked forwardly since the June 28 Stakes win and is another that could claim a piece.


10 three-year old fillies will square off in the mile and an eighth Grade I Del mar Oaks on the Jimmy Durante turf course on Saturday. The field includes the 1-2-3-4 finishers in the Grade II San Clemente here on opening Saturday as well as a p[air of European shippers, last out Grade I runner up at Saratoga and a trio of graded stakes placed fillies that each ran second in their last race.

While the Michael Stidham trained Istanford was in control in wire-to-wire fashion in winning the Grade II San Clemente over the turf course in that mile test it is worth noting that since they returned to turf racing last week, following a lengthy interruption for course repair (remember the turf was changed as part of an ongoing move towards overall changes as Del Mar takes on more dates and negotiates for the Breeders' Cup) and the dead-speed front-running daughter of Istan has only managed to carry that speed as far as 8 ½ furlongs once in 5 tries and will be asked to carry that speed another furlong in here.

While it is notable that there is not much early foot signed on and that the most likely early contention from both a speed and class standpoint, New York shipper Seas Queen drew a tough outside post, the first thing that jumps out is that Rafael Bejarano, who rode Istanford to victory in the San Clemente, opts to take the assignment on Sea Queen for trainer Christophe Clemente. Let's take a look at the runners from the rail out.

Diversy Harbor – Lost all chance when she broke 11th of 12 over the speed favoring course in the San Clemente as the 5-2 favorite. But that was her first since May and a look at her past performance lines shows a preference for more ground. She did close a ton in the race and willingly split rivals and moved on the rail late in a decent enough effort. The daughter of Curlin was second in the Grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita two back, Mike Smith remains aboard and a repeat of the American Oaks puts her right there.

Famous Alice – The daughter of Kitten's Joy has closed ground in three straight mile turf races, including the Grade III Senorita at Santa Anita on June 28. Like the rail filly she is trained by Tom Proctor and is uncoupled in the field. She is improving but will have to step up another notch to get more than a back-end minor award. Sharp young jockey Drayden van Dyke replaces Gary Stevens.

Istanford – As noted above, they have her to catch but off her dominant San Clemente win you will have to settle for a shorter price that this contest warrants. And as mentioned above, with Rafael Bejarano opting for Sea Queen, Martin Garcia rides for the first time.

Personal Diary – This is one of those tough calls that make these three-year old filly races so engaging and the large payoff prospects within range. A quick glance shows a filly that is 0-for-5 in 2014 and after 9 career starts still eligible for the first allowance level or even NW2L. But the Victoria Oliver trained daughter of City Zip has also hit the board (two second, two thirds) in her last four and among those rallying finishes, three of which were at 9 furlongs on grass (today's distance) was a neck beaten second at Keeneland behind Sea Queen. Corey Nakatani likes what he sees and likely at a price she is not a toss.

Stellaris – Istanford's stable mate will also be sent out by Michael Stidham and will look to show she belongs in these ranks. Interestingly this will be her first try on turf but not for want of trying. In her 5 career starts (5-2-2-1) she was washed to the main track 3 times and in her most recent tracked along the inside and rallied strongly for the place in the 9 furlong Arlington Park Oaks run over the synthetic course. As a daughter of Harlan's Holiday she is bred to handle the surface, had two sharp half mile drills over the Arlington turf course before shipping west and is another that could prove good enough to get a piece.

My Conquestadory – One of the uncoupled Mark Casse trained pair the lightly raced daughter of Artie Schiller has been an enigma since her amazing run to victory in the seminal Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland in career start number two last October. From that race she was sent west and ran without lasix in the BC Juvenile Turf and made a bold move to the lead before weakening inside the sixteenth pole in the one mile test. She was not seen again until May at Woodbine and was once again headstrong as she wanted the lead in the Grade III Selene on the synthetic surface at a mile and a sixteenth and was headed late as the odds-on favorite. She then took another break and returned to the turf in the San Clemente, broke from the extreme outside post in the field of 12 and for the first time looked like the settled filly that won the Alcibiades as she settled into stride, went 4 wide on the far turn and ran out of race track while checking in third. This is third off the layoff and if her 8/3 five furlong drill is any indication she might be ready for her best. Victor Espinoza, who rode her in the San Clemente returns.  

Tepin – The second of the Mark Casse fillies one has to decide whether she freaked in the San Clemente when she ran a strong second at 18-1 after a pair of prior races where her followers needed H M Stanley to find her. She did close well to outgun both My Conquestadory and Diversy Harbor, seemed to take to the turf and did work well 6 days ago. The daughter of Bernstein had worked well at CD before Casse shipped her here prior to the San Clemente so it is very possible she is finally figuring it out. She is another in the deep lineup of possibilities.

Odisseia – If we haven't convinced you yet how compelling this race is then perhaps this and the filly to her outside will help make the case. Both are European shippers making their North American debuts. On first look this daughter of Irish bred daughter of Clodovil might by virtue of only $28,481 in earnings from 7 starts seem a cut below. But the Phil D'Amato trainee was a solid handicap winner two back at Navan in Ireland and faced a very good field at Ascot in her last and brings BRIS speed figures that are comparable to the better ones in here into the race. She has also been here long enough to settle in with three very good drills over the Del mar synthetic surface.

Maibaby – Another Irish bred, the daughter of Hurricane Run comes off a strong win at Chantilly in an allowance race in her last and ships here off three straight on the board finishes. She is now in the hands of Hall of fame trainer Neil Drysdale who has terrific numbers with layoff and graded stakes runners, has worked over the synthetic main track and will be ridden by hot jockey Elvis Trujillo.

Sea Queen – It says something that trainer Christophe Clemente could have stayed at Saratoga and run the filly in the Grade II Lake Placid on Saturday but chose instead t ship her west to face what has to be considered a tougher field of Grade I fillies. The daughter of Lemon Drop Kid will have to overcome the outside post but if she repeats either her 18-1 upset win in the mile and an eighth 200K Wonder Again Stakes or her attempted wire job in the 10 furlong Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational in which she gave it up to Minorette (who she beat in the Wonder Again) in the final strides she belongs among the top considerations in here. Despite attempting to wire the Oaks Invitational she does not need to be on the front end and if Bejarano, who chose her over Istanford can get a good stalking position into the first turn she should have more than enough stamina through the lane.

In conclusion it must be noted that it is rare to see this many top notch fillies (19 in all) spread among two key races in which there is no standout regardless of the fact that the public will likely find one or two to over bet in each race. I'll definitely be there to take advantage. 


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