Party of Eight – Alabama Preview

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Training horses makes you think. Scott Fairlie thought about the 10-minute wait to find out his fillyMilwaukee Appeal lost the Prince of Wales Stakes, second leg ofCanada’s Triple Crown, by a nose.

“It’s bad enough in a regular race, never mind the Prince Of Wales,” he said. “We were looking for some sweet revenge from the Queen’s Plate and we thought we had it. Her head was coming back and the other horse’s head was as far out as it could be. That’s what the game is all about though, you know?”

Christophe Clement thought about his filly Funny Moon’s ability to handle stress.

“Physically she is doing as well as she can do,” he said. “Mentally, it might be a little bit tough on her because there is a lot going on here. She is a little bit anxious so we have been schooling her a lot – gate and paddock. She seems OK, I just hope that she can hold it.”

Josie Carroll thought about the decision to ship seven hours from Canada with the streaking Careless Jewel.

“It’s time to step up and see what kind of filly you have,” she said. “And it’s the Alabama. It’s a great race.”

No matter who isn’t here.

Pre-race talk about today’s Grade I for 3-year-old fillies centered on the decision of division queen Rachel Alexandra. She aims for loftier targets, which brought sighs of relief but made little difference in the historic race’s competitiveness.

The field of eight includes two classy Canadian shippers, a Grade I winner and a winner at the meet. Half the field finished 1 1/4 lengths apart in the Coaching Club American Oaks, a Grade I at Belmont at the same 1 1/4-mile distance.

Coaching Club winner Funny Moon carries the Grade I badge after prevailing in a war of attrition July 25. The daughter of Malibu Moon closed into a quick early pace, drifted out on the turn and prevailed by a neck over Don’t Forget Gil, who was a half-length in front of Wynning Ride, who was a half-length in front of Casanova Move.

Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Carter McNeely III, Funny Moon sports a 4-for-6 mark including back-to-back wins at Belmont this summer. Unraced at 2, the Saratoga sales graduate broke her maiden on a sloppy track at Gulfstream in March, added an allowance at Belmont in May, blew apart another allowance at Belmont in early July and added the Coaching Club. Her only bad race came in the Grade I Acorn, and that concerns Clement.

“I think she got too ready – it was Belmont Day, a big crowd, she got worked up before the race,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen again. We just try to school her as much as we can. I might put some cotton in her ears and remove it before the race. I’ll have to think about that, we might. We try, we try, we always try.”

Funny Moon tried her way to a wild win in the Coaching Club. Last of eight early, she turned Belmont’s sweeping far turn into something of a square while advancing on the far outside. She switched leads in the stretch and held off Don’t Forget Gil. Clement will equip the chestnut with a “more aggressive” bit today, in hopes of giving Alan Garcia more control.

“I don’t know why she did that on the turn,” Clement said. “She acted well before the turn and after the turn, and she came back very sound.”

New clients for Clement, the McNeelys and Virginia bloodstock agent Debbie Easter bought Funny Moon at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga in 2007. She did not start at 2 due to an ankle chip, but has more than made up for lost time.

“She always trained better and looked better than anything else with her and she’s a very, very good mover,” said Clement. “If anything, (not running at 2) is to her advantage because she keeps improving.”

Named the 4-1 second choice, Funny Moon breaks from post 3 and owns victories on tracks labeled sloppy, good, muddy and fast.

If Funny Moon won the Oaks by way of the parking lot, Don’t Forget Gil got stopped at the light. Alan Brodsky’s daughter of Kafwain waited behind horses until the final half-furlong, then charged home only to come up a neck short in her first start since finishing eighth in the Black-Eyed Susan May 15.

“She got sick after that race and we had to stop,” said trainer Mark Hennig. “I went into (the Coaching Club) very concerned about having her fit enough to go a mile-and-a-quarter, but she did it. I especially liked the way she accelerated the last sixteenth when she got clear. She really spurted toward the wire. That late in the race, to kick in the way she did said something.”

Hennig hopes his filly’s ability to close, and Saratoga’s stamina-testing layout, will help Don’t Forget Gil late in the race.

“A lot of times, you watch these mile-and-a-quarter races, the horses get the staggers and whoever is in front at the eighth pole is going to be in front at the wire,” he said. “Here it’s a real mile-and-a-quarter, two-turn race. At Belmont, you can trick a horse into thinking they’re not running a mile and a quarter.”

Rajiv Maragh, on board for two of the New York-bred’s three career wins, gets the call on the 6-1 shot from post 4.

The Alabama got some international flavor when two fillies made the journey from Canada.

Eugene George’s Milwaukee Appeal is a neck and a nose from being called Rachel Alexandra of the North after just missing against males in two legs of Canada’s Triple Crown. The daughter of Milwaukee Brew won the Woodbine Oaks June 7, finished third in the Queen’s Plate two weeks later after encountering trouble late and came back to lose that tight photo in the Prince Of Wales July 12.

Fairlie said his filly, who towers over the field with $747,371 in career earnings, deserved the shots at the big time back home in Canada, and this next one at Saratoga.

“She’s a very solid, tough filly and she’s shown that in the way she put her races together in a short period of time,” he said. “It’s something I wouldn’t normally ever do and I really put a lot of thought into it and I was really watching her carefully. She hasn’t missed an oat on any stop and she would have had a right to.”

Milwaukee Appeal shipped into Saratoga two weeks ago and worked a strong 5 furlongs over the main track in 59 1/5 seconds Aug. 14.

Fairlie would prefer a fast track as nine of his filly’s 11 starts have come on Woodbine’s Polytrack. The Prince Of Wales came on dirt, albeit fast, at Fort Erie.

John Velazquez takes the call on Milwaukee Appeal, who breaks from the outside at 9-2.

Though not a native, Careless Jewel flies the Maple Leaf proudly while looking for her fourth consecutive win. The speedy gray daughter of Tapit started her career at Keeneland in April, won her next two at Woodbine and then shook up Delaware Park with a wire job in the Grade II Delaware Oaks. Owned by Donver Stable, the 5-2 favorite could make the lead for jockey Robert Landry.

“She has a lot of natural speed so I’m sure she’ll be in position,” said Carroll. “I guess we’ll just see how it unfolds. The Coaching Club didn’t unfold the way everybody expected. This might be a rider’s race.”

A $40,000 Keeneland September purchase in 2007, Careless Jewel nearly didn’t make the cut but joined Carroll’s team on the advice of agent Ciaran Dunne.

“We were actually finished buying at the sale when Ciaran, who buys a lot of horses for my clients, called about one more he wanted to round the load out with,” said Carroll. “She sure rounded out the load.”

Careless Jewel has never raced beyond 1 1/16 miles, but could dictate the race and might be difficult to catch. Carroll, who hasn’t started a horse at Saratoga since the 1999 Alabama (Brushed Halory finished well back of Silverbulletday), also cautioned that the Canadian invaders should not be taken lightly.

“We don’t ship outside of Woodbine a lot unless there’s a horse we think is good enough to belong in one of these races,” she said. “Racing is so good at Woodbine now that the only reason to travel is for this kind of a race.”

Third in the Coaching Club, Arnold Zetcher’s Wynning Ride (Kent Desormeaux) renews acquaintances with Funny Moon and Don’t Forget Gil for trainer Bob Baffert. The daughter of Candy Ride has been working steadily on the Oklahoma track while looking for her second career win. She breaks from post 2 at 6-1.

Ned Evans’ Casanova Move (Jose Lezcano, post 7) wound up fourth in the Coaching Club and has placed in four graded stakes this year. The daughter of Langfuhr makes her second start for trainer Todd Pletcher at 8-1. Westrock Stable’s Be Fair (Julien Leparoux) won the off-the-turf Lake George here July 31 for trainer Wayne Lukas and breaks from post 6 at 8-1. Jerry Jamgotchian’s Sweet And Flawless (Ramon Dominguez) tackles her seventh racetrack of 2009 for trainer Eric Reed. She breaks from the rail at 20-1.