08/20/2009 11:00PM

Alabama looks like anyone's race

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Barbara D. Livingston
Don't Forget Gil was a neck second in the CCA Oaks after a layoff.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Mark Hennig has several reasons to be eagerly awaiting Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga with his 3-year-old filly Don't Forget Gil.

First, he won't have to worry about meeting Rachel Alexandra, the presumptive 3-year-old filly champion who is being pointed to a start against males in the coming weeks. Second, his filly has already shown the ability to handle the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Alabama, something she did when she was beaten a neck in last month's . Third, and perhaps most importantly, Don't Forget Gil is training lights out.

"She's doing great," Hennig said. "She's worked well, her gallops have been very strong, I'm looking forward to getting to race day.''

Race day has arrived, and at 6-1 on the morning line, you could do worse than back Don't Forget Gil in what appears to be a wide-open 129th renewal of the Alabama. The Alabama is the 10th race on an 11-race card and the third leg of a pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

Eight fillies have been entered in the Alabama, with Canadian invader Careless Jewel, victor Milwaukee Appeal (9-2).

Don't Forget Gil was beaten a neck by Funny Moon in the Coaching Club American Oaks, but encountered enough traffic to make one believe that with smoother sailing she could have won. Don't Forget Gil was boxed in along the rail from the three-eighths pole to the sixteenth pole. She eventually got out and split horses, but was just outfinished by Funny Moon.

"The part that impressed me was when she did get out the way she accelerated the last sixteenth after running a mile and three-sixteenths," said Hennig, who trains Don't Forget Gil for Alan Brodsky. "It sure confirmed what I felt about her stamina - that it wouldn't be a problem."

The CCA Oaks was Don't Forget Gil's first start in 71 days, or since she finished last in the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico on May 15. Hennig said Don't Forget Gil had a temperature diagnosed a few days after that race, which led him to believe something may have been brewing beforehand.

Funny Moon had to overcome her own quirks to win the CCA Oaks. She appeared to be getting out down the backside and around the turn. Jockey Alan Garcia got her straightened out in the stretch and she closed strongly to get the win.

Trainer Christophe Clement is going to use a more severe bit on Funny Moon for this race to give Garcia more control.

The worst race of Funny Moon's career came in , which was run on Belmont Stakes Day. Clement believes Funny Moon was adversely affected by the big crowd that day and has the same fear entering the Alabama.

"My main concern would be mentally can she handle the Saratoga crowd," Clement said. "Because of what happened in the Acorn, it'd be foolish to think she'd act perfect."

Careless Jewel has reeled off three consecutive victories including a runaway 7 1/4-length score in the Delaware Oaks, her first start on dirt. She attempts to stretch out to 1 1/4 miles in the Alabama, where she may run into other speed types such as Be Fair or Wynning Ride.

"You hope you don't hook up with somebody on the front end and blow your race early, but in actual fact if we can get this filly to relax I don't know that she has to be on the lead," trainer Josie Carroll said. "You look at her form and you say she's automatically going to be so, but you know she's becoming easier and easier to get off the bridle. So you would hope that if somebody else chooses to set the early pace that's she'll come off the bit a little bit."

Milwaukee Appeal returns to meet fillies after facing males in , where she was beaten a neck, and the Prince of Wales, where she was beaten a nose. The Queen's Plate proved to trainer Scott Fairlie she could handle 1 1/4 miles, the Prince of Wales convinced him she could handle dirt.

"It's nice to be back in against the fillies," Fairlie said. "I like the way the race sets up, there's speed in there, and she's got tactical speed herself. She's in excellent shape."

Casanova Move has placed in four graded stakes this year, and comes off a fourth in the Coaching Club. Be Fair won