08/18/2011 3:08PM

Saratoga: Alabama ripe for St. John's River to pick

Email
Tom Keyser
St. John's River has consistently displayed a strong late kick.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – St. John’s River may not have the résumé that It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty do, but she has the talent, late kick, and pedigree to suggest she could upset those two in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.

VIDEO: Saratoga updates, Alabama preview | Replays of contenders' past races »

Runner-up in the Fair Grounds Oaks and Kentucky Oaks, St. John’s River broke through with her first stakes win last month when she got up in the final strides to take the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks by a head. The last three winners of the Delaware Oaks – Proud Spell, Careless Jewel and Blind Luck – came back to win the Alabama. Adding to the good karma is the fact that St. John’s River, a daughter of Include, is stabled in the same stall that housed Blind Luck last year. The only negative karma is that St. John’s River is a full-sister to Panty Raid, who finished fifth in the 2007 Alabama as the 2-1 favorite.

Andrew Leggio Jr., the trainer of St. John’s River, shipped the filly to Saratoga about two weeks after her Delaware victory and in time to get three breezes over the main track. In addition to liking how his filly has trained, Leggio has seen an attitude adjustment in her that he believes is a positive sign.

“Since she’s been here she is so relaxed,” Leggio said. “I guess she likes the weather and the atmosphere here.”

St. John’s River has displayed a solid late kick in all of her six races. In the Kentucky Oaks, St. John’s River’s late run fell a neck short of Plum Pretty. In the Delaware Oaks, St. John’s River was last of seven until the quarter pole when she came five-wide in the stretch to run down the loose-on-the lead Strike the Moon.

The late kick that St. John’s River possesses has Leggio confident his filly can get the 1 1/4 miles distance.

“Every race she’s always coming at you,” said Leggio, who six years ago won the Grade 1 Ballerina with Happy Ticket, his only other Saratoga starter. “You got to think she’d go a mile and a quarter just by how she’s been running. But that doesn’t say she can go a mile and a quarter, we realize that. I hope she can; if she can we’ll be tough.”

It’s Tricky has been tough not only on her handlers, but her competition. A difficult filly to train in the morning, It’s Tricky has been difficult to beat in the afternoon, winning 5 of 6 starts including a gutty three-quarter-length victory over Plum Pretty in the Coaching Club American Oaks here on July 24.

Despite what appeared to be a tough race on It’s Tricky, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin sounds confident has bounced back sufficiently to fire another big shot.

“She came out of it in great shape. She’s been eating well and acting well and acting like It’s Tricky can act,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes you think everything is good and she’s doing great, and then on the day you’re disappointed, but we’ve had a month in between, and I don’t think there’s any excuses as far as that goes.”

It’s Tricky will break from post 4 under Eddie Castro. She figures to once again be stalking Plum Pretty, who set the pace in the Coaching Club American Oaks. It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty were inseparable for the final three furlongs before Its Tricky edged away in the last 50 yards.

It’s Tricky is trying to join the likes of Top Flight, Damaged Goods, Shuvee, Mom’s Command, Open Mind and Sky Beauty as fillies that have won the Acorn, CCA Oaks and Alabama.

The connections of Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty believe their filly will be better served by having had four weeks to train in Saratoga since the Coaching Club, a race she ran in basically off the plane.

Inglorious ships down from Canada, where two months ago she defeated the males in the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine. It was her third consecutive victory, by far her most impressive.

“Anybody would be impressed with what she did in that race,” said trainer Josie Carroll, who in 2009 won the Alabama with Careless Jewel with the same owners, Donna and Vern Dubinsky, of Inglorious. “She really did make a spectacular move when she finished.”

Royal Delta was 2-1 in the Coaching Club, but will likely go off a higher price here after finishing a well-beaten third that day. However, Royal Delta, the Black-Eyed Susan winner, may have needed the race after being forced to miss the Mother Goose because of a bruised foot.

Pinch Pie, a winner of two straight races on turf, completes the field.

The Alabama goes off as race 10 on an 11-race card that begins at 1 p.m. It will be broadcast live on NC Sports during a one-hour telecast beginning at 5 p.m.