08/15/2013 4:21PM

Saratoga: Princess of Sylmar should appreciate longer distance in Alabama Stakes


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Here’s a scary thought: As good as Princess of Sylmar has been in races up to 1 1/8 miles, her trainer, Todd Pletcher, believes she may not have run a race at her preferred distance yet.

“She’s a filly we always felt wanted to run as far as they write dirt races for fillies,” Pletcher said Thursday. “I actually think the mile and a quarter is maybe going to be her best distance.”

Princess of Sylmar will get the opportunity to prove her five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer correct when she gets to run 1 1/4 miles for the first time in Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. Princess of Sylmar will face five rivals – only one of whom has won a graded stakes – in the 133rd Alabama, which shares top billing with the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Both races will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network from 5-6 p.m. Eastern.

Princess of Sylmar, a Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Majestic Warrior, will try to add the Alabama to a r é sum é that includes wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks. Open Mind, the champion 3-year-old filly in 1989, was the last filly to win all three of those races.

Pletcher, who also is saddling longshot Galloping Giraffe, will try to add the Alabama to his r é sum é , as he is winless with 11 starters in nine runnings of this prestigious race, with two seconds and three thirds.

A victory in the Alabama could very well seal an Eclipse Award for Princess of Sylmar, who also won two listed stakes at Aqueduct during the winter and finished second to Close Hatches in the Grade 2 Gazelle in April.

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“I see a scenario where if she wins the Alabama, she would be very, very difficult to dethrone from championship honors,” Pletcher said. “We’ll worry about that if it happens. By winning those three races consecutively, someone would have to do something remarkable at the end of the year to top that.”

Princess of Sylmar has been topping herself all year. She was dynamic in winning the Busher and Busanda stakes, efforts that were unheralded because they occurred over Aqueduct’s inner track. In the Kentucky Oaks, she rallied from well off the pace to win by a half-length over Beholder, last year’s champion 2-year-old filly.

Following a two-month freshening, Princess of Sylmar dominated the Coaching Club American Oaks here by six lengths.

“I think it was arguably her best race so far,” Pletcher said. “She drew away convincingly the last part of the race, and she seemed to really get over the surface well.”

Princess of Sylmar has shown the ability to win from off the pace whether the pace was slow (as in the Busher), rapid (as in the Kentucky Oaks), or modest (as in the CCA Oaks). On Saturday, the potential is there for a strong early pace with Fiftyshadesofhay, Carnival Court, and Montana Native in the field.

“I think this filly has such a good finish, it’s almost a turf-like turn of foot the last part of the race,” Pletcher said. “We’ll let her be happy and get a good position and hope she delivers the same kind of kick she has been.”

Javier Castellano rides Princess of Sylmar from post 4.

The Alabama could be Princess of Sylmar’s last race of 2013. She is not nominated for the Breeders’ Cup and is unlikely to be supplemented, at least this year, by owner Edward Stanco. The $1 million Cotillion at Parx Racing is run at 1 1/16 miles and comes back in four weeks, either of which could be deterrents, according to Pletcher.

Fiftyshadesofhay is the only other graded stakes winner in the Alabama field, having taken the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan and the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks, both since blinkers have been added, which have served to better focus the filly, according to trainer Bob Baffert.

Fiftyshadesofhay won the Black-Eyed Susan from off the pace, but Baffert believes the filly’s best chance of winning Saturday will come in a front-running fashion.

Baffert said he will instruct jockey John Velazquez “to put her on the lead and take them as far as we can.”

Carnival Court, a half-sister to 2011 Alabama winner Royal Delta, makes her stakes debut after two consecutive wins at Belmont. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the Alabama last year with Questing, believes the distance of the Alabama will favor his filly.

“She’s bred to get the mile and a quarter,” said McLaughlin, who will put Carnival Court on Lasix for the first time after she bled in a recent workout. “We thought we have a chance to get a Grade 1-placing, you never know what might happen,”

Tell a Great Story, a daughter of Bluegrass Cat, had an extremely wide trip when third in the Delaware Oaks last out. Her trainer, Ignacio Correas IV, believes his filly also wants the distance of the Alabama.

“The way she’s bred, the way she gallops, we always thought she could go forever,” said Correas, whose filly will break from the rail under Jose Lezcano. “But it’s the Alabama – you need to go forever with class. We need to find out if she has that kind of class.”