08/15/2012 4:24PM

Saratoga: Questing can go to head of class in Alabama

Tom Keyser
Questing, with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding, wins the Coaching Club American Oaks after an impressive Belmont victory in her debut on dirt.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – When the connections of Questing entered her in a first-level allowance race on the dirt at Belmont Park on June 24, it was a career-saving race for the 3-year-old filly.

“She was close to going home,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “If she didn’t handle the dirt in that allowance race she probably would have been retired.”

Questing did indeed handle the dirt, winning the one-mile race by 3 3/4 lengths while earning a 105 Beyer Speed Figure. A month later, Questing won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.

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Questing now enters Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes here with an opportunity to vault to the head of the class of a jumbled 3-year-old filly division.

Questing, owned by Sheikh Mohammed Godolphin’s Racing, drew post 6 and was made the 5-2 second choice on the morning line by Eric Donovan, the line-maker for the New York Racing Association. Grace Hall, the Delaware Oaks winner and 2011 Spinaway winner, drew post 3 and was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

A field of seven was entered for the Alabama, which will go as race 10 on an 11-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Sword Dancer for older males on turf.

The Alabama lost Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, who will get a month off on owner Brereton Jones’s Airdrie Stud farm after trainer Larry Jones deemed the filly a bit lethargic following a five-furlong workout on Monday.

Questing, a daughter of Hard Spun, ran fifth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on dirt at Churchill Downs. Trained by John Gosden then, she was kept in this country with McLaughlin, who ran her twice on the turf without success.

“She pulled so hard. Horses that pull that hard aren’t great on the turf, so we decided to try her on the dirt and it was a ‘wow!’ ” McLaughlin said. “Got another ‘wow,’ now we’ll see if we get a third one. It’s not easy.”

Irad Ortiz Jr., who earned his first of two Grade 1 victories at the meet, will be aboard Questing from post 6.

Grace Hall, coming off a demonstrative 3 3/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks, drew post 3 and will be ridden by Javier Castellano.

Zo Impressive, who won the Mother Goose and who was second to Questing in the Coaching Club, will break from post 2 under Rajiv Maragh.

Also entered were Sea Island, Uptown Bertie, In Lingerie, and Via Villaggio.