Dunbar Road impresses in G1 Alabama win

Jockey Ortiz salutes the crowd as he rides Dunbar Road to his third-straight victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama presented by NYRA Bets for sophomore fillies on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course (Photo Courtesty of Spencer Tulis)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Peter Brant’s Dunbar Road continued a stellar start to her career, handling the stormy conditions and a stretch out to 1 ™ miles by overtaking Street Band at the top of the stretch and outkicking graded stakes-winner Point of Honor by 2 § lengths to capture the 139th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama presented by NYRA Bets for sophomore fillies on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course

Under a driving rainstorm, Dunbar Road broke well under jockey Jose Ortiz from the inside post and stayed covered near the rail as Champagne Anyone and Ulele dueled for the lead, with the former leading the eight-horse field through an opening quarter mile in 24.14 seconds and the latter going the half in 48.97 on the sloppy and sealed main track.

The 8-5 favorite, Dunbar Road had plenty in reserve, and Ortiz capitalized by tipping her wide out of the final turn, where she dug in against Street Band in the final furlong before gaining command from the outside and drew away to hit the wire in 2:04.07.

It marked the first Alabama victory for Saratoga meet-leading trainer Chad Brown, who notched his third win on the day and second in a stakes after Regal Glory dead-heated with Varenka for victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Placid one race prior.

“It’s very special to win our first Alabama. The Alabama and the Travers are the two biggest races here and to win one of them is very special.” Brown said. “I was actually expecting to be more forwardly placed. I told Jose with the lack of pace in the race, and the change in track conditions, that I’d be comfortable on or very close to the lead.

“I didn’t want to take any chances,” he added. “I felt she was the best horse in the race and I didn’t want the weather pattern and track conditions to compromise our chances in the race. It wasn’t how I would have drawn it up. We got shuffled back early and I really wasn’t certain down the backside, with how far back she was, that we would win from there. She was just so much the best today. She was able to overcome everything.”

Ortiz also registered his third win of the afternoon and became the first jockey to win three consecutive runnings of the Alabama since Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey [1997-99]. Ortiz won with Elate in 2017 and Eskimo Kisses last year.

It was the third time this meet that Brown and Ortiz teamed to win a Saratoga stakes, adding to the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks won by Guarana and the Curlin, won by Highest Honors.

“I’ve won the Alabama now three times in a row. My goal is to go to the Hall of Fame and to go to the Hall of Fame, I have to win these types of races,” Ortiz said. “I was hoping to go to the lead but the other horses broke well too and I just had to sit into the first turn, but she relaxed really good. At the five-eighths pole, I started working my way out and followed Javier [Castellano] through the turn. It was a little wide but I didn’t want to be a hero and try to split horses. I felt like I had a lot of horse.”

Dunbar Road returned $5.50 on a $2 win wager, earning the victory for the fourth time in five starts. Unraced as a 2-year-old, the Quality Road filly won her debut in March at Gulfstream Park and ran second to fellow Alabama contender Champagne Anyone next out in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, marking her only non-winning effort. She has now won two straight graded stakes starts, building on her 2 ¢-length score in the Grade 2 Mother Goose on June 29 at Belmont Park.

“[With the weather] I was concerned about the experience because it is only the fifth start of her life, and the 1 1/4 miles coming from 1 1/16 miles, but she’s a good filly and she really handled it,” Brant said. “She’s very special.”

Point of Honor, the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan winner in May at Pimlico Race Course, surged in the final sixteenth to edge Street Band by a nose for second under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.

“She ran a great race. I have no complaints, she was just second-best today,” Castellano said.

Varenka, Regal Glory dead-heat in Lake Placid

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Favored Varenka and second-choice Regal Glory hit the wire as one after a thrilling four-horse stretch drive to dead-heat for the win on Saturday in the 36th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake Placid at Saratoga Race Course.

Both fillies settled off the pace as Blowout led the field of 3-year-old turf fillies through dawdling fractions of 26.36 and 51.10 seconds, with three-quarters going in 1:15.39 under darkening skies and over an inner turf course rated firm. Heading into the turn, jockey Luis Saez made the first move aboard Regal Glory, tipping the Animal Kingdom filly to the outside in the three path as Amandrea ranged up to challenge the pacesetter.

Following along, however, were Varenka and Javier Castellano, who went even wider to trigger a contentious stretch run among the four fillies, with Blowout grimly hanging on to the lead on the inside and Amandrea staying in the mix until the final yards, when the top two surged to the front with inches to spare in the photo finish.

Both fillies were walked in a circle outside the winner’s circle for several minutes as rain began to fall while racing officials perused the photo before posting the “head heat” sign.

“You have to be lucky,” said Castellano. “Those ‘bobs’ can go either way. It was a very exciting race and those two horses showed up and I rode to win. In the moment, I thought I had won the race but after watching the replay, I thought it could go either way.”

The final time for the 1 1/16-mile race was 1:43.68.

Oleksandra rallies late to win Smart N Fancy

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Team Valor International’s homebred Oleksandra closed impressively into swift splits to capture Saturday’s $100,000 Smart N Fancy, a 5 ¢-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upwards at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Neil Drysdale and piloted by Joel Rosario, the 5-year-old Animal Kingdom mare was last of seven early in the Smart N Fancy as Morticia, Too Much Tip, and Broadway Run battled through an opening quarter-mile in 21.37 seconds on a Mellon turf course rated firm.

The pacesetting trio continued their battle into the turn with Morticia, the even-money favorite under Irad Ortiz, Jr., looming as the one to beat. As the field straightened away, Ruby Notion made a wide-rallying bid while Rosario angled Oleksandra off the rail, maneuvering outside of the rail-skimming Fire Key and inside of the tiring Morticia, to secure a one-length win in a final time of 1:00.40.