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Sunday, August 19, 2012
Alabama romp enhances 'Quest' for a crown

By Bob Ehalt

While the Eclipse Award for the champion 3-year-old male is pretty much a done deal, the race for the 3-year-old filly crown has unfolded like a game of musical chairs.

Until Saturday.

Unless she’s purely a Spa freak, Questing certainly looked the part of the year’s best sophomore filly with a landslide nine-length victory in Saratoga’s $600,000 Alabama Stakes, a race that has been won by the division champ in three of the last four years.

“She’s definitely the best 3-year-old filly in America on the dirt,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

No kidding.

A 4 -length winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on opening weekend, Questing ($6.40) was sent off as the 2-1 second-choice in the Alabama due to the imposing presence in the field of seven of Grace Hall, an easy winner of the Delaware Oaks in her previous start.

Questing, though, wasted little time in taking charge in the Alabama, sprinting clear in the opening quarter of a mile. When a half-mile split of a demanding 46.01 was posted, it appeared the front-running Godolphin Racing filly might be doing too much too soon. But instead of slowing down, she kept pouring it on, putting away the pace-prompting Grace Hall -- the 6-5 favorite -- on the turn and then drawing off in the stretch to complete the mile and a quarter in a superb 2:01.29, a time the boys will be hard-pressed to match next weekend in the Travers.

It was also the fastest Alabama clocking since Go For Wand’s 2:00 4/5 in 1990.

“I was thinking [the pace] was too fast, but I liked the way she was doing it,” said McLaughlin. “I looked behind her, and a lot of them were riding hard to keep up. I was nervous about the fractions, but she was doing it the right way.

“She’s a special filly. I’m glad we have her on dirt here in North America and that we tried her on it,” McLaughlin said about a filly that started her career in Europe racing on turf. “She could have won today going a mile and a half.”

The victory was the third straight -- all on dirt, beginning with an allowance win on May 11 -- for Questing, who was unplaced in her first two starts at three -- both on turf. It also gave 20-year-old rider Irad Ortiz Jr., who was shaken up in a spill Friday, a rather impressive three Grade 1 victories at the meet.

In Lingerie, who was third as the favorite in the CCA Oaks, launched a serious bid on the final turn of her rematch with Questing, but was dusted by the winner and settled for second. Via Villaggio was another eight lengths back in third and Grace Hall wound up a well-beaten fifth.

“Going that fast I thought [Questing] would have come back to me a little bit and maybe make it an interesting race, but that wasn’t the case,” said John Velazquez, who rode In Lingerie. “She kept running. Going to the half-mile pole I was saying ‘I think I got it, we’re going fast enough.’ Psshh. I moved up a little bit, and the winner took off.”

Took off in more ways than one, something that might be confirmed in January when the Eclipse Awards are handed out.