USA: Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek/Tyler Gaffalione) takes centre stage at Saratoga on Saturday when the Kentucky Oaks second favourite headlines the Alabama Stakes for three-year-old fillies.
Runner-up to leading Kentucky Derby contender Art Collector last time when she took on her male counterparts in the G2 Blue Grass at Keeneland, the three-time graded-stakes winner is seeking her first G1 success in the $500,000 contest.
With trainer Kenny McPeek eyeing Churchill Downs on September 4, she will be joined by stablemate Envoutante (Jose Ortiz). “We’re still pointing both of them to the Oaks,” said McPeek. “The timing is a bit tricky this year, but it is what it is.”
Among rivals to the McPeek duo in the Alabama are Crystal Ball (Bob Baffert/Javier Castellano), game second to Paris Lights in last month’s CCA Oaks, and Fair Grounds Oaks winner Bonny South (Brad Cox/Irad Ortiz). In-form Todd Pletcher saddles Belmont allowance winner Spice Is Nice (John Velazquez).
Also worth half-a-million is the Saratoga Derby, the opening leg of the New York Turf Triple in which the Christophe Clement pair of Decorated Invader (Joel Rosario) and Gufo (John Velazquez) offer an intimidating presence.
Kentucky Oaks betting (William Hill): 4-6 Gamine, 4 Swiss Skydiver, 7 Speech, 8 Finite, 12 Donna Veloce, Spice Is Nice, 14 bar.
Shall we talk about it?
Saratoga: Alabama Stakes G1 $500,000, 1m2f, dirt, 3yo fillies (10.43pm BST)
Envoutante: “This filly is sitting on her biggest race. She’s a filly that has done everything right and we have been pointing to this race for a while. I think the mile and a quarter will hit her right on the head. It’s unfortunate that I’ve got to run them against each other, but she’s going to run well.” Kenny McPeek (trainer)
Spice Is Nice: “We needed to get that race under her belt to get her ready for this. She’s been training well since then. It’s a very strong field – stronger than I anticipated – but I think the distance suits her, so we’ll see if she can step up.” Todd Pletcher (trainer)
Swiss Skydiver: “Once we got her going to two turns, she really figured it out and it clicked. The further she goes, the stronger she gets. She’s been a real sturdy filly. She eats really well and she’s easy to be around. The Alabama is a great race. It’s a race I’ve won before and I would love to win it again.”
Kenny McPeek (trainer)
Saratoga: Saratoga Derby (ungraded) $500,000, 1m1½f, turf, 3yo fillies
Colonel Liam: “He’s always given me the impression that longer distances won’t hurt him. The key is if he can settle as well as he did in the last race. He was the only three-year-old in that race. It was really competitive and he handled it well, so I was happy with that. I was also happy with the way he breezed back and it seems like we found what we were looking for putting him on the turf.” Todd Pletcher (trainer)
Decorated Invader: “I’m very happy with how he’s been training. He looks great – he’s been training with Gufo and they continue to work well and help each other. They work very willingly, so I’m excited to see both of them run. The way he ran last time, it’s very encouraging.” Christophe Clement (trainer)
Get Smokin: “He wants the turf firm, for sure. This race will probably be deeper than last time, so we’ll have to step it up for sure. He’s trained hard for the race with a lot of long gallops and he’s well prepared. We’ll see if he can get the distance. If he can’t, we’re going to find out.” Tom Bush (trainer)
Gufo: “The further, the better for him. He’s a little different kind of horse. He always shows less speed in his races than Decorated Invader, but he has a really good turn of foot.” Christophe Clement (trainer)
• Visit the NYRA Saratoga website