One rider adjusted his girth and stopped. Another swung into his saddle and stood. A third buckled his chinstrap and walked. The set of three made a turn under the trees and headed to the main track Friday morning.
“This one earned three quarters of a million,” Ralph Nicks said, pointing to his stable pony, Desert Wheat.
“That one is a Grade 1 winner,” Nicks said, pointing to a dark Rudy Wolfendale’s mount Aubby K.
“That one there, she looks better in my saddle towel,” Nicks said, pointing to trainer Steve Hobby, aboard Coaching Club American Oaks contender Marathon Lady. Adorned in Nicks’ red and green, the 3-year-old filly walked in cadence next to Desert Wheat and a few strides in front of the Humana Distaff winner.
“She’s not a Grade 1 winner,” Nicks said to Hobby.
“She’ll go further,” Hobby said.
Both trainers laughed.
Marathon Lady, equipped with blue striped blinkers, handled her morning exercise with aplomb, loping an easy circuit of the main track. Hobby, who upset the Sword Dancer at Saratoga with Telling, eased the white-striped, long-striding filly through her final exercise before facing My Happy Face, Cue The Moon, Unlimited Budget and Princess Of Sylmar for the first time.
Owned by Alex and JoAnn Lieblong, Marathon Lady will get to test her stamina in the Grade I stakes today. Eligible for a non-winners-of-two allowance condition, the daughter of Graeme Hall has yet to win a stakes but has come close. After breaking her maiden at Oaklawn Park in February, the bay filly finished second in the Bourbonette, third in the Fantasy, second in the Black Eyed Susan and third in the Mother Goose.
“I knew it [the CCA Oaks] was going to be a short field,” Hobby said of his decision to come to Saratoga. “And I thought thought she would like the 1 1/8 miles and the two turns.”
Robby Albarado, aboard for that lone victory in Hot Springs and three of the filly’s other races, gets the return call and should get Marathon Lady in the mix behind the expected speed of Tempted winner My Happy Face.
“I’ll probably just get Robby to ride his own race,” Hobby said. “I can expect that we’ll probably be laying second. I don’t see any sense in trying to go with her [My Happy Face]. Let’s just hope that My Happy Face can’t go that far.”
Todd Pletcher counters with two fillies proven they can go that far in Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar and Fair Grounds Oaks and Demoiselle Stakes winner Unlimited Budget.
Princess of Sylmar posted a monstrous upset in the Kentucky Oaks at nearly 39-1 and has not been out since. Pletcher deferred to Ed Stanco, who campaigns the Majestic Warrior filly in his King of Prussia Stable, and his desire to win the Alabama and thought a brief freshening was the best path to the Aug. 17 race.
“We got her home after the Kentucky Oaks and kicked it around a little bit and the one thing that Ed had expressed to me, way back in February was that he would love to win the Alabama,” Pletcher said. “We looked at it, she had already had a fair amount of starts, we decided that the program we had back in February, gave her a little freshening, ran her in the Gazelle and ran her back a month later and she won the Oaks. We felt like, give her a little freshening, run her in the Coaching Club, hopefully she runs well but also hopefully it sets her up well for the Alabama.
“I didn’t feel like we could go Mother Goose, Coaching Club and Alabama so we decided to skip the Mother Goose.”
Unlimited Budget, who won the 9-furlong Demoiselle in her second start late last November, comes off a sixth-place finish against males in the June 8 Belmont Stakes. The Street Sense filly finished 8 1/2 lengths behind stablemate Palace Malice that afternoon in her only off-the-board effort.
“Her Belmont wasn’t bad, she was stuck outside the whole way and a mile and a half is just a little beyond her, she didn’t embarrass herself by any means,” Pletcher said. “We thought this was better at a mile and an eighth instead of a mile and a quarter of the Alabama. We felt like this was her Grade 1 opportunity.”
Pletcher’s fillies will both get new riders, with John Velazquez reuniting with Unlimited Budget and Javier Castellano getting back on Princess of Sylmar.
“I actually talked to Mike [Repole, owner of Unlimited Budget] quite a bit,” Pletcher said. “I sort of left it in his boat, it was a tough call, Johnny is two-for-two on the filly so let’s give him a shot on her. It worked out well for me, because Javier has ridden Princess Of Sylmar before and won her, she knows her.”
The fifth member of the CCA Oaks quintet is Spendthrift Farm’s Cue the Moon, who adds blinkers and might also show more early speed following a fourth in the Grade 1 Acorn at a mile last time out.