As far as Jones is concerned: Mission accomplished.
Surging to the front at the top of the stretch, Proud Spell simply refused to relinquish the lead and out-gamed favored Music Note in an eyeball-to-eyeball battle through the final furlong to win the 128th running of Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes by a head.
And she didn’t.
When the gates opened for the mile and a quarter race, Music Note’s Godolphin stablemate Little Belle took the lead while Saez kept Proud Spell close behind, moving up to second on the outside as the field of five headed down the backstretch through easy fractions of 24.97, 50.22 and 1:14.70. Last early, Music Note moved into contention approaching the half-mile pole and moved up willingly to take dead aim on Proud Spell after she took command midway on the turn.
“At the top of the stretch I knew it was going to be the horse race that we were all looking for,” said Jones. “We knew we were going to get down to a gut-down task.”
At the eighth pole, the race was on. With Proud Spell on the inside and Music Note pasted to her flank, the two fillies battled as one to the wire in a spectacular finish that left the crowd of 32,344 gasping and Saez standing in the irons with his arm lifted in triumph.
“When I saw Music Note come alongside of us, I told my filly, ‘C’mon, let’s start running,” said Saez, whose filly finished the 10 furlongs in 2:04.08. “It was an exciting finish.”
Even in defeat, Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor had to agree.
“It was a great race,” said bin Suroor, who had considered scratching Music Note from the Alabama to run in next Saturday’s 139th edition of the Grade 1, $1 million Travers presented by Shadwell Farm. “Our filly ran a big race; we’re happy with the way she finished. It was so close; it was a tough race.”
The loss snapped a four-race winning streak for Music Note, who followed her victory over Proud Spell in the Grade 1 Mother Goose with an 11-length romp in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.
“Proud Spell is a top-class filly, one of the best in the United States,” said bin Suroor, whose Little Belle was third, 4 ½ lengths back, trailed by longshots Mushka and Sweet Vendetta. “But, our filly, Music Note, is a dual Grade 1 winner this year.”
The victory was the fourth in seven starts this year for Proud Spell, who was the first filly to defeat Indian Blessing in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and then rebounded from her Mother Goose loss to win the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt she’s the leading three-year-old filly,” said Jones of Proud Spell, who earned $360,000 too boost her bankroll to $1,975,110 and extend her lifetime record to seven victories in 11 starts, with two seconds and two thirds. “This filly has been here all year. She was the first horse to beat Indian Blessing, which was the champion. She showed up for the Kentucky Oaks, she’s still around for the Alabama, she won the half-million dollar Delaware Oaks … in my mind, she’s the best and hopefully we showed it here today.”
The second choice in the field of five – Skylighter was scratched – Proud Spell returned $5.90 for a $2 win bet. As for her next start, Jones said he just wanted to enjoy this one for a while.
“We’ll try to enjoy this one more than the Kentucky Oaks, because that ne got short-tailed,” said Jones. “We’ll plan something for her later.”