08/15/2008 11:00PM

Proud Spell digs in when challenged

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Barbara D. Livingston
Proud Spell (right) fends off favored Music Note in a stretchlong battle to win the Grade 1 Alabama on Saturday at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - At the eighth pole of Saturday's $600,000 Alabama, Proud Spell had put away Little Belle and braced for the oncoming charge of Music Note.

At that point, the duel for supremacy in the 3-year-old filly division was on. But somewhere in the spacious Saratoga grandstand, Larry Jones, trainer of Proud Spell, was smiling because he knew what made his filly special.

"This filly of ours had never been passed down the stretch the entire time we've had her,'' Jones said.

That streak lived in the Alabama as Proud Spell ($5.90), under Gabriel Saez, turned back the challenge from Music Note, and won the Grade 1 Alabama by a head. Music Note, coming off wins in the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, finished second, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of her stablemate Little Belle. Mushka was fourth followed by Sweet Vendetta, who bled.

Proud Spell added the Alabama to stakes victories in the Kentucky Oaks, Delaware Oaks, and Fair Grounds Oaks and it allows her to lay claim to the 3-year-old divisional title - for now.

"I don't think there's any doubt, but I'm prejudiced,'' Jones said.

Proud Spell stalked Little Belle through fractions of 24.97 seconds, 50.22, and 1:14.70 before taking a head lead after running a mile 1:38.99.

Music Note, under Javier Castellano, sat off the pace while saving ground down the backside. Castellano swung Music Note out three wide turning for home and as Proud Spell left Little Belle, Music Note looked ready to pounce. But Proud Spell never wavered and held her off, covering 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.08.

"I told Gabriel, 'Do not let Music Note in front,' '' Jones said. "I don't care if you have to ride all the way to the barn area, down Nelson Avenue, she don't get in front. Because if you come up to [Proud Spell] and eyeball her, you don't beat her.''

Rick Mettee, who oversees Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Godolphin Racing's New York string, said Music Note had no excuse.

"The other filly just outgamed her, that's all,'' Mettee said.