08/18/2012 6:02PM

Saratoga: Questing runs rivals off their feet in the Alabama

Barbara D. Livingston
Despite setting fast early fractions and ducking from rider Irad Ortiz Jr.'s whip, Questing wins the Alabama by nine lengths.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – She may have run sideways in the stretch, but Questing vaulted straight to the top of the 3-year-old filly division Saturday with a dominating nine-length victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes at sun-kissed Saratoga.

Unleashing an arsenal of speed rarely seen by a 3-year-old filly going 1 1/4 miles, Questing, under Irad Ortiz Jr., ran her six opponents off their feet, and though she weaved in and out a couple of times in the stretch, she was a spectacular winner.

In Lingerie, the Black-Eyed Susan winner, finished second, eight lengths ahead of Via Villaggio. Zo Impressive, the Mother Goose winner, finished fourth and had to be vanned off with what was diagnosed as a condylar fracture to her right front cannon bone. The injury is considered career-threatening, but not life-threatening, according to Dr. Celeste Kunz, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Grace Hall, the even-money favorite, finished fifth and appeared uncomfortable shortly after the wire, according to jockey Javier Castellano. But after the race, trainer Tony Dutrow said Grace Hall came back in good shape.

Sea Island and Uptown Bertie completed the order of finish.

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Questing, owned by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum’s Godolphin Racing and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, added the Alabama to her earlier victory at this meet in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and now heads into the fall as the leader of the 3-year-old filly division.

“She’s definitely the best 3-year-old filly in America on the dirt,” said McLaughlin, who first put her on dirt in a June allowance race at Belmont Park.

The victory capped a whirlwind 24 hours for the 20-year-old Ortiz, who on Friday was removed from the Saratoga turf course on a stretcher and taken to Saratoga Hospital with an apparent ankle injury. X-rays were negative, and he rode Saturday, but was unseated during the running of the sixth race when his mount clipped heels.

But Ortiz bounced back up and rode the remainder of the card.

“It’s unbelievable, yesterday, today; thank God I’m okay,” Ortiz said as he walked out to ride the 11th race, in which he finished second. “I’m a younger guy; it’s good when you are young.”

It’s also good when you’re riding fast horses, and Questing proved yet again she is indeed fast.

Breaking from post 6, Questing immediately assumed control of the Alabama, opening up a one-length lead in a quarter run in 22.84 seconds. She continued on through a half-mile in 46.01 seconds and six furlongs in 1:09.74. That was .06 of a second faster than Bodemeister ran six furlongs in the Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz said it did not feel like Questing was going that fast.

“Going so fast I can’t feel it,” Ortiz said. “I feel like my horse is going relaxed, always.”

Despite the fast fractions, Questing came to the quarter pole with a three-length lead, which helped ease McLaughlin’s nerves.

“I was nervous, but I liked when she turned for home just the way she was going because the rest of them looked like they were riding hard,” McLaughlin said.

Questing was having difficulty changing leads, so Ortiz hit her three times at the three-sixteenths pole, and Questing ducked out. Approaching the eighth pole, Questing ducked in. Though she finished the race on her wrong lead, Questing covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.29 and returned $6.40 as the second choice.

“I think she was waiting for the horses,” Ortiz said. “She’s playing and she can run like that.”

Questing also ducked out in the Coaching Club, something McLaughlin attributed to the exuberance of a young rider. Saturday, McLaughlin said Questing was just playing.

“I think she was ducking a little bit each way today instead of all the time left-handed, but as long as she’s five in front, I’m not worried about it.

“She’s looking, she’s not getting tired running that fast.”

McLaughlin said the next logical race for Questing would be the $1 million Cotillion at Parx Racing on Sept. 22, though he would consult with Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford first.

Meanwhile, Grace Hall, last year’s Spinaway winner, was a disappointing fifth, beaten 31 lengths. Castellano said he knew early on that it wasn’t going to be Grace Hall’s day.

“She broke out of the gate, she got a good position into the first turn, but when we got to the backside she lost the bridle,” Castellano said. “She’s got so much class that she got to the half-mile pole, but then after that she went the wrong way.”