Updated: 08/17/2014 6:51 PM
Created: 08/16/2014 9:32 PM WNYT.com
By: NYRA & WNYT Sports
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Before the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama at Saratoga Race Course, trainer Todd Pletcher said it was premature to say a win by Stopchargingmaria in the 1 ¼-mile race for 3-year-old fillies would put her in the mix for Champion Three-Year-Old Filly honors.
On Saturday, after Stopchargingmaria held on to win the 134th edition of the Alabama by three-quarters of a length, Pletcher began to entertain the notion of his filly competing for an Eclipse Award.
"She's in the mix [for championship honors] now," said Pletcher. "We've got to keep winning."
Stopchargingmaria, favored at even money to extend her winning streak to three in the Alabama, intently tracked pace-setting Size in fourth while racing three wide on the first turn through an opening quarter-mile in a restrained 24.35 seconds. Size, the 5-1 second choice, further backed down the pace as she completed a half-mile in 49.92 as Stopchargingmaria advanced into third along the backstretch.
After moving into second as the field entered the far turn, Stopchargingmaria challenged Size for the lead and took over at the quarter pole as the early leader gave way. Miss Besilu cut the corner to offer a brief bid inside of Stopchargingmaria, who quickly dismissed that rival.
A final challenge came from late-running Joint Return, but Stopchargingmaria had enough left under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to prevail by a slowly diminishing margin and complete the distance in 2:05.14. Miss Besilu finished a half-length behind Joint Return in third.
"She was a little bit keen the first part of the race," said Velazquez, who rode Stopchargingmaria for the first time since her maiden win eight races before. "Today I was actually taking her back, trying to get her to relax behind other horses. Finally, past the half-mile pole I gave her her head and let her hit her stride. All of a sudden the horse on the lead started getting out, and somebody else got through on the rail - I was pretty mad about it - but she showed up and put up a good fight. Every time I asked her for a little bit more, she was giving it to me."
Stopchargingmaria returned $4 for a $2 win wager to her backers in the crowd of 40,594.
"In a perfect world, maybe, we wouldn't have been quite so wide around the first turn," said Pletcher. "We just wanted to make sure we got her into a comfortable rhythm. We were willing to give up a little bit of ground to do that. It really worked out pretty well."
"We had to give up some ground all the way around there, and when [Miss Besilu] cut the corner it was like, 'Uh oh,' but she had plenty of time to see her and compete with her," the trainer added.
Stopchargingmaria won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks by five lengths on July 20 at Saratoga, following in the footsteps of Princess of Sylmar, who swept the 2013 Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama in 2013. Princess of Sylmar is Pletcher's only previous Alabama winner.
Last summer at Saratoga, Stopchargingmaria began her career with an easy maiden victory and a runner-up performance in the Grade 1 Spinaway. After finishing third in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont, she concluded her juvenile season with wins in the Grade 3 Tempted and Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The dark bay or brown daughter of Tale of the Cat disappointed in her first two starts in 2014, finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park and fourth in the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, before she regained winning form with a neck victory in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan in May at Pimlico.
Overall, Stopchargingmaria is 6-1-1 in 10 starts, with $1,414,000 in earnings, including $360,000 for her Alabama triumph. This year, she is 3-0-0 in five starts.
Pletcher said Stopchargingmaria likely will make her next start in either the Grade 1 Cotillion - which is expected to attract Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable - for 3-year-old fillies on September 20 at Parx Racing or the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational for fillies and mares on September 27.
"We'll just have to see how she comes out of this," said Pletcher. "It probably will be one of those [two races]."
With Stopchargingmaria's victory in the Alabama, owner Mike Repole now has won all four of Saratoga's premiere route races for 3-year-olds, having taken the 2011 Grade 1 Travers and Grade 2 Jim Dandy with Stay Thirsty.
"As a kid in Queens I could never afford to get up here [to Saratoga Race Course,] said Repole. "I never had a car that could go three hours. I've always watched the big races. For someone that's only been in the game for about 10 years and only really five years with some quality horses, you want to win the Jim Dandy. You want to win the Travers. You want to win the Coaching Club [American Oaks]. You want to win the Alabama. How lucky and blessed am I to say, 'Wow. Not only have I been in these races but I've won all four?' It might be a good day to retire."
Joint Return pleased her trainer, John Servis, with her runner-up performance.
"I would have been happier with a win, but very happy with second," said Servis. "I was really disappointed with [her second-place finish as the favorite in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks]. I expected her to win and, hopefully, impressively. I [had] toyed with the idea of putting blinkers on her, but she'd been running so doggone good. You know, you're almost afraid to mess up, but after the Delaware race I said, 'That's it,' and I put blinkers on her. He went from having to ride her the whole way to sitting on her until he called on her, and she ran real well. I thought she'd love the mile and a quarter, and how many chances do you get at a Grade 1?"
Fortune Pearl, Got Lucky, America, Catch My Drift, Unbridled Forever, and Size completed the order of finish.