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Aug 16, 2013

Up the Backstretch: Time to close the door on division title

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - The Alabama Stakes is historically the most important race for 3-year-old fillies. The last three race winners all won Eclipse Awards as division champion.

The 133rd edition on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course will be, at most, a two horse race between current division leader Princess of Sylmar and Fiftyshadesofhay.

Princess of Sylmar, trained by Todd Pletcher, is the 3-5 favorite in the six- horse field with Fiftyshadesofhay installed at 2-1. None of the other fillies are listed at less than 10-1 in the morning-line.

Owned by Mike Repole, Princess of Sylmar sits atop the 3-year-old filly division after posting victories in the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks, the latter four weeks back at Saratoga.

"She should excel with the added distance," Pletcher noted concerning the 1 1/4-mile Travers. "She finished both the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club very well, indicating to me she wants more distance. She's easy to turn off in the early part of the race and relaxes nicely, so that should also help.

"She's a very big filly who tends to drop way back in her races, so we feel like a mile and a quarter might suit her. Mike Repole is ambitious and doesn't mind taking a shot with some of his horses, so that's what we are doing with her."

Trainer Bob Baffert is sending Fiftyshadesofhay from California for the Alabama. The filly has also won her last two starts with wins in the Iowa Oaks seven weeks ago and the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico a day prior to the Preakness.

The Alabama distance of 1 1/4 miles is an unusual one for fillies to run. Even the Breeders' Cup Distaff, formerly Ladies' Classic, is conducted at 1 1/8 miles.

The Belmont Stakes is known as the "Test of the Champion" and Travers the "Mid-Summer Derby," the Alabama has no additional moniker but is very much the race that 3-year-old fillies need to win heading toward an Eclipse Award.

"I think it changed in the (Coaching Club American) Oaks," Pletcher said on people's perception about Princess of Sylmar. "She put any questions about her Kentucky Oaks victory to rest in there with a very strong performance ... coming off a win in the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club, she's established herself as the division leader."

Bred in Pennsylvania, Princess of Sylmar can slam the door on her competition for division honors with a victory on Saturday.

Neither Princess of Sylmar nor Fiftyshadesofhay are speed horses. The pace in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama will be set by Montana Native along with Tell a Great Story and lightly raced Carnival Court.

Fiftyshadesofhay will be stalking the leaders as Princess of Sylmar trails early. The favorite has won after overcoming troubles and racing wide. The added distance, as Pletcher noted, should pose no problem and could prove beneficial.

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