Updated on 09/17/2011 12:12PM

Spoken Fur, Bird Town meet in Alabama

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Bird Town, winning the Kentucky Oaks, is the 6-5 second choice in Saturday's Alabama Stakes behind Spoken Fur who is listed at even-money.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When the New York Racing Association announced last fall that it would offer a $2 million bonus for winning a newly-constituted Triple Tiara, cynics called it the Storm Flag Flying bonus. After winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, last year's dazzling 2-year-old filly champion looked to have her contemporaries at her mercy and figured only to improve with age and distance.

Things change. Storm Flag Flying has not won this year and is on the shelf indefinitely. Meanwhile, two other fillies who were one-start maidens last October have emerged as the dominant leaders of the 3-year-old filly division and will square off for the first time in an unusually good and decisive Alabama.

Spoken Fur vs. Bird Town is a compelling showdown. They have carved up the four biggest races in their division this year, with Bird Town winning the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn and Spoken Fur then emerging from obscurity to win the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks. The Alabama could well end up deciding the divisional title, as it did last year for Farda Amiga, especially because it's hard to picture either filly in many winner's circles this fall against a loaded older-filly division that includes Azeri, Sightseek and Wild Spirit.

The Alabama itself has added meaning for the connections of its two favorites, one of a monetary and one of a sentimental nature.

Spoken Fur is eligible for that $2 million bonus for sweeping a "series" that did not even exist until this year. No one has quite gotten it right on how to structure a filly triple crown. There used to be an unofficial one vaguely corresponding to the colts' classic races - the Oaks at Churchill, the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico and the CCA Oaks at Belmont. Then the NYRA tried to create its own with a Triple Tiara of the Acorn, Mother Goose and CCA Oaks, but the Kentucky Oaks was drawing better fields than the Acorn and NYRA's Triple Tiara was losing its legitimacy. So last year, NYRA lopped off the Acorn at the front end, added the Alabama at the back, kept the Tiara name and added the bonus.

Spoken Fur took five starts to escape the maiden ranks but hasn't lost since and has gone to a new level since being privately purchased and turned over to trainer Bobby Frankel, who got her two weeks before the Mother Goose and sent her out to win that race by 5 1/4 and the CCA Oaks by 3 1/2. She just gallops along until Jerry Bailey says go, then cruises by her overmatched competition with almost disdainful ease.

Frankel, who has already won 17 of the 50 Grade 1 races run in the United States this year, was filling a rare hole in his stable with Spoken Fur. He didn't have a stakes-class 3-year-old dirt filly so he went out and bought one and now she's a victory away from a third Grade 1, an Eclipse award and a $2 million bonus that could end up giving Frankel a new earnings record by year's end.

If Spoken Fur represents the new way to pile up honors and riches, Bird Town comes from the other end of the spectrum. Bird Town is a homebred from the grande dame of Saratoga herself, Marylou Whitney. Beginning in 1901, six different fillies owned by various Whitneys have won the Alabama, but Bird Town would be the first in 71 years.

Bird Town has been pointed for the Alabama all spring in a triumph of tradition over greenbacks. Her owner wants to win Saratoga's premier race for 3-year-old fillies more than she wants to figure out what to do with another $2million, so trainer Nick Zito freshened up Bird Town after the Acorn and brought her back in the Test to give her a prep over the track. She ran a useful second to a fully-cranked Lady Tak, whom she'd beaten in the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn, on a day when nothing was beating Lady Tak at seven furlongs.

A week later Bird Town and the revivified Whitney racing and breeding operation gained some additional reflected glory when Bird Town's little brother made what remains the most impressive juvenile debut of the meeting. Birdstone, a Grindstone colt from Bird Town's dam Dear Birdie, won his debut on Whitney Handicap Day by 12 1/2 lengths with a steady move and strong finish. If you squinted a little it was easy to picture him at Churchill Downs next spring trying to replicate his sister's heroics.

So who do you like? Betting against Frankel in Grade 1 races is akin to spitting into the wind, and Spoken Fur has won so easily at both 9 and 12 furlongs that you wouldn't think 10 would be a problem. On the other hand, she beat little of quality in those starts, and her Oaks figure plummeted from her Mother Goose. She also lacks the experience of overcoming adversity and being in a real fight to the finish, which Bird Town did negotiating traffic trouble in the Kentucky Oaks and fighting off both early and late challenges in the Acorn.

You can make a reasonable case for either, but I think I just talked myself into Bird Town.