08/16/2007 11:00PM

Octave still going strong

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Octave makes her third start in seven weeks in the Alabama on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Once you get over the fact Rags to Riches isn't running, you come to the conclusion that Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga is still one heckuva horse race.

Seven 3-year-old fillies who have combined to win 28 races - including 15 stakes - entered the 1 1/4-mile Alabama, which is being run for the 127th time. Five of the seven come in off a graded stakes win, and the other two finished second and third in a Grade 1.

Octave, coming off wins in the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, was made the 5-2 morning-line favorite by New York Racing Association line-maker Eric Donovan. But this field is deeper than the Mother Goose and CCA Oaks were.

Octave, trained by Todd Pletcher, has never been worse than second in 10 career starts. The Alabama, contested around two turns, will be her third start in seven weeks.

"She's real solid, she holds her weight remarkably well," said Pletcher, who seeks his first Alabama win. "She's the kind of filly that kind of takes care of herself in between races and works. She seems to be handling it well. After this, we'll give her a bit of freshening."

Octave will break from post 4 under John Velazquez.

One of Octave's major rivals comes from her own shed row. Panty Raid, a daughter of Include, is riding a three-race winning streak entering the Alabama. She won an allowance race over Keeneland's Polytrack, the Black-Eyed Susan on Pimlico's conventional dirt, and the Grade 1 American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park.

Panty Raid, who will break from post 2 under Edgar Prado, won her career debut here last year by 7 3/4 lengths.

"Without a doubt, I think a mile and a quarter suits her extremely well," Pletcher said. "She not only won at a mile and a quarter last time out, she galloped out very strong afterward. Her breeze here the other day was very, very impressive. She's tactical enough to be wherever she needs to, depending on the pace."

Those who could be on the lead include Moon Catcher, 2 for 2 since adding blinkers; Folk, the United Arab Emirates Oaks winner; and possibly Tough Tiz's Sis, the Hollywood Oaks winner.

Lady Joanne (pronounced JO-nee) could be the horse to beat in the Alabama. She has won 4 of her last 5 starts, including an easy victory in the Banshee Breeze Stakes here on July 30, which was the equivalent of a public workout.

In her two workouts since that race, she has finished very strongly and galloped out great. Though she won the Banshee Breeze on the front end, she is a proven commodity from off the pace.

"She's a big, long-striding, strong mare that's got a lot of talent," said trainer Carl Nafzger, who won the 1998 Alabama with Banshee Breeze. "Whether she can beat these good horses or not, we'll find out."

Lady Joanne will break from post 7 under Calvin Borel.

If the early pace is really hot, Lear's Princess may be the biggest beneficiary. After winning her first three starts - one on Polytrack and two on turf - Lear's Princess made a strong dirt debut with a solid second-place to Octave in the Coaching Club American Oaks. She switched to her left lead in the stretch run of that race, which trainer Kiaran McLaughlin believes may have cost her the victory.

"This is just her second start on the dirt; she should improve," McLaughlin said. Eibar "Coa knows her now; two turns should help. Hopefully she won't jump off her proper lead at the sixteenth pole."

Trainer Bob Baffert, already 2 for 2 at this meet, will send out Tough Tiz's Sis, who won the Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks in her last start. Her only bad race came in the Kentucky Oaks where she was beaten 17 1/4 lengths by Rags to Riches.

"The Kentucky Oaks, throw that race out," Baffert said. "She broke bad, she was shuffled back, and she wasn't training as well as she is now."

Godolphin Stable won three races here Wednesday. In the Alabama, Godolphin sends out Folk, who won two stakes in Dubai this winter before finishing third in the Coaching Club. Her connections were planning on waiting for the Gazelle, but opted to go in the Alabama because the filly was training so well. Garrett Gomez rides from post 5.

The Alabama will be the ninth race on a 10-race card that also includes the $100,000 Yaddo for New York-bred fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.