08/15/2008 11:00PM

Showdown of top fillies in Alabama

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Barbara D. Livingston
Larry Jones, aboard Proud Spell, is eager for his filly to face Music Note.

By DAVID GRENING

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It's only mid-August, but a year-end championship in the 3-year-old filly division could be decided Saturday when Music Note and Proud Spell meet in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.

Music Note, who was being considered for a start against males in the $1 million Travers on Aug. 23, was confirmed as starter in the Alabama by her connections on Friday afternoon. Rick Mettee, who oversees the New York stable of Shiekh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Godolphin Racing, said the potential for an 11-horse field in the Travers was the main reason the decision was made to run in the Alabama.

"In the end, it came down to picking the best spot," Mettee said.

Music Note defeated Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell in the June 28 Mother Goose, a race in which both horses encountered trouble. Music Note, a daughter of A.P. Indy, came back on July 19 to dominate the Coaching Club American Oaks by 11 lengths, while Proud Spell, who suffered multiple lacerations in the Mother Goose, came back on July 12 to win the Delaware Oaks.

Prior to learning of Godolphin's final decision, Larry Jones, the trainer of Proud Spell, said he preferred that Music Note run in the Alabama.

"We would like to settle it; that's where it needs to be settled is on the track," Jones said Thursday morning. "I'm afraid if we don't meet her, then I think it's going to be left up to a lot of opinions."

Music Note has won four consecutive races. She stumbled, lost a shoe, and dislodged another shoe in the Mother Goose, but still had a better trip than did Proud Spell, who stumbled badly, was forced to steady turning for home, and then drifted out in the stretch while finishing second. Proud Spell was disqualified and placed third for bothering Never Retreat.

Music Note was exceptional in her Coaching Club American Oaks victory, settling into last before unleashing an eye-catching move that saw her run a final quarter in 24.17 seconds en route to a final time of 2:01.66 for 1 1/4 miles. Mettee said that Music Note came out of that race a "little more tired" than she did the Mother Goose, but her recent training suggests she's bounced back.

In addition to running Music Note, Godolphin will run Little Belle as well in the Alabama. Little Belle won the Grade 1 Ashland over Keeneland's synthetic surface before running second to Proud Spell in the Kentucky Oaks. Following a 78-day layoff, Little Belle finished second in the Coaching Club Oaks, while finishing 6 3/4 lengths ahead of the field.

"She absolutely needed that race," Mettee said. "We kind of stuck her in there at the end when it wasn't a big field. We were kind of pleasantly surprised she was able to get the mile and a quarter so well off the preparation she had; she's a one-paced, grind it out filly in her own right. We feel she's going forward off that race."

In the Mother Goose, Proud Spell suffered multiple lacerations on her knee and ankles and was kept off the track for several days. But she rebounded so quickly, that Jones stuck her in the Delaware Oaks just two weeks later. Proud Spell looked as though she was laboring in midstretch of that race, but she gutted out a three-quarter-length victory.

"She did that on pure guts and determination and class of horse,'' Jones said.

Though Proud Spell has been most successful from just off the pace, it is possible she could find herself the pace-setter in the Alabama.

"I'm not afraid of having this filly in front," Jones said. "It would take her completely out of her game plan, however, the only time we laid really close to the front recently was chasing Indian Blessing and it worked. She'll do whatever we want to do."

Sweet Vendetta is making her first start since taking the Black-Eyed Susan on May 16. She was sold privately after that race to WinStar Farm, but has remained with trainer Gary Contessa, who believes this filly is deserving of a shot in this Grade 1 race.

Mushka, last year's Demoiselle winner, finished third in her 3-year-old debut here on July 25. Skylighter, a winner of two straight, completes the field.