NBC's "Summer at Saratoga" continues Saturday with an important Grade 1 test for three-year-old fillies, the $500,000 Alabama Stakes. A short but strong field of six will line up for the 1 ¬-mile event, including It's Tricky, who will be seeking a sweep of New York's Triple Tiara series.
The Alabama will be televised from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBC.
Only five fillies - Top Flight (1932), Shuvee (1969), Mom's Command (1985), Open Mind (1989), and Sky Beauty (1993) - have swept the Acorn Stakes, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama, and It's Tricky is in position to join the exclusive list.
Victories in the one-mile Acorn and 1 1/8-mile CCA Oaks have put the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee atop the three-year-old filly division, and It's Tricky can take another big step toward an Eclipse Award in the Alabama.
She will meet a formidable group of rivals, including Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, Delaware Oaks heroine St. John's River, Black-Eyed Susan victress Royal Delta and Canadian invader Inglorious, who exits a victory over males in the 1 ¬-mile Queen's Plate Stakes at Woodbine.
It's Tricky has won five-of-six starts. She opened her racing career last November, winning a six-furlong allowance on Aqueduct's main track, and proceeded to capture a pair of two-turn races early this year on the winter inner oval, including an eight-length score in the Busher Stakes. The bay lass suffered her only setback when shipping to Florida for the Gulfstream Oaks (G2) on April 2, finishing fourth following a wide trip, but rebounded 10 weeks later in the Acorn at Belmont Park, generating a whopping 109 BRIS Speed rating for her convincing 3 _-length score.
It's Tricky met a much deeper field in the CCA Oaks, which was contested on the opening weekend of the Saratoga meet, and after tracking Plum Pretty during the early stages, she engaged the pacesetter on the far turn and dueled with her rival through most of the stretch, eventually gaining the upper hand in the final yards as she edged away by three-quarter of a length. The Godolphin-owned runner faces the possibility of a regression off such a monstrous performance, but she's had four weeks to recuperate and is in good hands with McLaughlin. It's Tricky will be difficult to beat if she carries her form forward.
Plum Pretty hails from the dangerous Bob Baffert stable. After finishing third in her first two stakes attempts at Santa Anita this winter, the gorgeous bay filly posted a 25-length victory in the Sunland Park Oaks in late March. She registered her first major victory in the May 6 Kentucky Oaks, defeating a top-class field of 13 rivals at Churchill Downs.
But Plum Pretty will be attempting to regain a little lost luster following a pair of runner-ups in the Hollywood Oaks (G2) and CCA Oaks. She ran commendably in both spots, leading in the stretch each time, and her BRIS numbers are first-rate. Plum Pretty has posted three works at Saratoga since the CCA Oaks and will probably show speed from post 3. She's a legitimate wire-to-wire threat.
St. John's River is an up-and-coming filly who will be looking to break through at the Grade 1 level. A maiden winner in late January for trainer Andrew Leggio Jr., she recorded a half-length second in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) two starts later and then just missed in the Kentucky Oaks, rallying boldly from off the pace to finish a neck second to Plum Pretty.
St. John's River received two months off for her next outing, the July 9 Delaware Oaks (G2), and offered a dynamic late run to narrowly prevail in the 1 1/16-mile race, receiving a 114 BRIS Late Pace rating in the process. She should relish the additional ground and the Delaware Oaks has proven to be a key race for the Alabama, producing the last three winners - Blind Luck (2010), Careless Jewel (2009) and Proud Spell (2008). St. John's River has the potential to add her name to the list.
Royal Delta brought a two-for-three mark into the May 20 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at Pimlico and exited the 1 1/8-mile race as a serious player in the three-year-old filly division. The Bill Mott-trained filly recorded an easy 2 «-length score, dusting her rivals with a stirring turn of foot into the stretch, and received an eye-catching 107 BRIS Speed rating.
But she missed a scheduled start in June's Mother Goose (G1) due to a minor physical setback. Royal Delta was probably short on fitness entering the CCA Oaks, but she still managed a respectable third-place effort and is candidate to move forward significantly in the Alabama. She will be rallying from off the pace.
Inglorious is five-for-five on synthetic tracks, posting a 2 «-length score in the 17-horse June 26 Queen's Plate, Canada's biggest race for three-year-olds, and is the only member of the Alabama field with a win at the 1 ¬-mile distance.
The Josie Carroll charge dropped her only two starts on dirt earlier this year at Fair Grounds, but Inglorious didn't receive the cleanest trip when finishing second in the Rachel Alexandra (G3) and fourth in the Fair Grounds Oaks - she could show more returning to the dirt Saturday. She appears to be training well in preparation and the late runner is very intriguing.
Pinch Pie will face a severe class hike. She does bring encouraging form into the race for trainer Anthony Dutrow, recording a pair of nice wins on the turf at Monmouth Park and Delaware Park, but she's lost all three career starts on dirt.