“It’s her first time to Saratoga,” explained trainer Larry Jones. “She’s just figuring out the lay of the land.”
Figuring out the lay of the land at the Spa is one thing; figuring out the lay of the land in this year’s three-year-old filly division is something else. But Saturday’s 128th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes at one and one-quarter miles could go a long way in clearing things up in a division rife with talent.
Music Note, who notched her fourth straight victory in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, and Little Belle, winner of the Grade 1 Ashland earlier this year, were both entered in the Alabama; however, Music Note remains under consideration for Grade 1, $1 million Travers presented by Shadwell Farm here next Saturday and could be scratched from the Alabama as late as Saturday.
As well, the race has drawn last year’s Grade 2 Demoiselle winner in Mushka, who returned to action at the Spa with a third-place allowance finish on July 25; the Bobby Frankel-trained Skylighter, making her stakes debut, and Sweet Vendetta, who won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico in her last start on May 16.
“Last year, we were so fortunate in hooking a very good crop of three-year-old colts with (Grade 1 King’s Bishop winner) Hard Spun,” said Jones. “This year, we’ve hooked a very good bunch of girls with this one. But I knew she was supposed to be here, so I brought her.”
Indeed. Proud Spell, a daughter of Proud Citizen owned and bred by former Kentucky governor Brereton C. Jones, launched her career in spectacular fashion last year, winning three straight including the Grade 2 Matron at Belmont Park.
She next ran into a buzzsaw named Indian Blessing, finishing second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Grade 3 Silverbulletday at the Fair Grounds before finally turning the tables in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. Proud Spell’s other two losses this year came with excuses at the hands of two of her main rivals: she was third behind Little Belle in the Ashland after an awkward start, and placed third via disqualification to Music Note in a roughly-run Grade 1 Mother Goose.
“I understand Music Note came out of that race with one lost shoe and another bent shoe, and this one here got butchered, so you can’t gauge anything off that race,” said Jones. “We’ve never been ashamed of her, and when we lead her over there Saturday we’ll feel the same way.”
Never worse than third in her 10 lifetime starts, with earnings of $1,615,110, Proud Spell rebounded from her loss in the Mother Goose to score a half-length win in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks barely two weeks later. Now, with an extra week of rest compared to Music Note, she comes into the Alabama ready to rumble with her last work a 1:00.40 move on August 11 over the all-weather track at Fair Hill.
“This is where champions are made,” said Jones. “And that’s why she’s here.”
Music Note, whose first Grade 1 win was the Mother Goose, and Little Belle have also been training forwardly for the Alabama, going five furlongs over the all-weather track at Greentree Training Center adjacent to Saratoga last weekend.
“They’re both doing well,” said Rick Mettee, North American racing manager for Godolphin. “It’s nice to have that luxury of two in a Grade 1 race at a mile and a quarter.”
Mushka, who looked like she could be any kind with her eye-catching score in the Demoiselle, could be ready to take her place in the top tier of her division. The daughter of Empire Maker was probably a “little light” training for her first race back and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is eager to see how she fares Saturday.
“We thought if we could get a race into her, we could make the Alabama,” he said. “It puts us in a good spot. We would have liked two races, but we wanted to give her the opportunity.”
The field for the 128th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama:
PP. HORSE TRAIINER JOCKEY
1. Proud Spell Larry Jones Gabe Saez
2a. Music Note Saeed bin Suroor Javier Castellano
3. Skylighter Bobby Frankel Edgar Prado
4. Mushka Bill Mott John Velazquez
5a. Little Belle Saeed bin Suroor Rajiv Maragh
6. Sweet Vendetta Gary Contessa Ramon Dominguez
All starters will carry 121 pounds.