Curlin filly Nest and Irad Ortiz Jr. win the Alabama at Saratoga
Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Michael House’s Nest dominated Saturday’s 142nd renewal of the $600,000 Alabama (G1), a 10-furlong test for sophomore fillies, at Saratoga Race Course.
The 4 1/4-length victory over Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath marked the fourth Alabama score for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher following victories with Princess of Sylmar Stopchargingmaria  and Malathaat, who took last year’s event en route to champion 3-year-old filly honours.
The Curlin bay now holds a 2-1 lead in head-to-head battles with the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Secret Oath, who was two lengths better than a runner-up Nest in the Kentucky Oaks in May at Churchill Downs. Nest, who was a game second to stablemate Mo Donegal in the Belmont Stakes (G1) in June, entered the Alabama from a decisive 12 1/4-length score over Secret Oath in the nine-furlong Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) on July 23 at the Spa.
Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners said the victory was an emotional one with their $350,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase.
“As special as they come. I’ve stood in this grandstand and applauded a lot of champions, but never my own,” Wellman said. “In the last month, twice now, from the eighth pole to the wire, I’ve applauded Nest. She’s something special and she proved she’s a champion today.”
With regular pilot Irad Ortiz Jr. up, Nest stumbled at the break but quickly recovered to stalk from second position as She’s Keen led the field of seven through fractions of :24.39 and :49.44 over the fast main track with Goddess of Fire and Gerrymander tracking their early foot.
Nest pressed She’s Keen into the final turn as Secret Oath advanced from fifth position under Luis Saez and prepared to take aim at the leaders as three-quarters elapsed in 1:14.37. Nest took over midway through the turn as Secret Oath reached second and Goddess of Fire attempted a wide bid, but a simply sensational Nest accelerated away from her foes under little urging to post a comfortable score in a final time of 2:03.14.
Secret Oath completed the exacta by two lengths over Goddess of Fire with Skratch Kat, Gerrymander, Nostalgic and She’s Keen completing the order of finish.
Pletcher was full of praise for Nest’s ability to overcome adversity.
“That was a special performance today. To see her come back and it seemed like she hardly drew a deep breath,” Pletcher said. “I was a little concerned at the start, she got away in a bit of a tangle. I was hoping we’d get a good position and we ended up getting the position that we wanted. It was a little hairy for the first couple of strides, but after that it was all here.
“You’re worried about if the start compromised here later in the race, but it didn’t seem to,” Pletcher added. “You got to keep in mind that Wayne’s filly [Secret Oath] is a very good filly, a Kentucky Oaks winner and she made a big run at her. But we got into a comfortable rhythm and had something left.”
Ortiz, who won the 2012 Alabama with Questing, said Nest wasn’t hampered by the awkward start.
“She stumbled a little bit, but she recovered so fast,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “I can’t be happier than that. It means a lot [to win this race]. It’s a nice race, a nice filly. What can I say? I’m so happy. I can’t tell you she’s the best filly in the country because we have to respect the other divisions, but honestly, with a clear trip she’s pretty nice. It was a great feeling [turning for home], it was a great feeling. I know she’ll take off. I don’t even have to hit here, I just took care of the filly.”
Lukas tipped his hat to the winner.
“We got outrun,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “We had a shot here at the top of the stretch. We had our style today and I thought Luis rode a real good race. A little bit slow on the fractions early on. That probably set up for here [Nest] to kick on, but we were supposed to kick on, too. No excuses, we got beat.”
Pletcher said Nest is a model of consistency as a winner of 6-of-9 starts with a perfect in-the-money record while competing strictly in stakes company following her debut maiden win in September at Belmont Park.
“It’s at the point now where that’s what you expect from here,” Pletcher said. “It takes a little while to build a resume like that, but she’s run well in every start of her life and I thought this was a special performance today.”
Nest made the grade in December in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct Racetrack and added the Grade 1 Ashland to her ledger in April at Keeneland ahead of the Kentucky Oaks.
Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farms and Colts Neck Stables, Nest banked $330,000 in victory while improving her record to 6-2-1 from nine career starts. Sent to post as the 1-5 mutual favorite, she returned $2.70 for a $2 win ticket.