The Saratoga Race Course season continues its slow crescendo to the Travers with Saturday's renewal of the $500,000 grade one Alabama Stakes.  This race, for three year old filles at a mile and a quarter, features some real quality and will surely be a jewel of the 2011 Saratoga season.  I've broken it down and submit for your approval my preview of the Alabama Stakes.

There's a reason that the Alabama is known as one of the best stakes races that Saratoga has to offer.  The race consistently draws some of the best fillies in the world.  This year's edition is no different.  Plum Pretty and It's Tricky make up what many will see as the class of the field.  Both are very impressive horses with past performances that would make any handicapper excited.  Royal Delta, Pinch Pie and specifically St. John's River and Inglorious are no slouches though, and will certainly make this an interesting race.

I love It's Tricky and Inglorious in this race. Both are coming off two straight wins (three straight for Inglorious) in some serious races.  It's Tricky has won back to back grade one stakes races, including an almost four length win over Turblent Descent, a fantastic filly that dominated the field in this year's grade one Test Stakes on Whitney Day.  Inglorious, however, is the not only the only horse to win at a mile and a quarter, she's the only horse in this race to have run at the distance.  In her last seven races, Inglorious has five wins, a place and a fourth.  Her recent competition isn't quite on par with It's Tricky's, but the prices in those races (100K, 500K, 150K) say a lot to me - especially when considering the odds that she'll probably be getting around post time.  If these two are ahead of the field, though, it's not by much.

Two other impressive filly's in this field are Plum Pretty and St. John's River.  Plum Pretty hasn't finished worse than third in her career - a career which includes three grade ones, two grade twos and another $200,000 stakes race. She has failed as the favorite in her last two races, though impressively won the two races before that. St. John's River is coming off a win, and has also never finished worse than third in her career.  In her last five starts she's placed three times and won twice.  Additionally, each time she has finished second she has done so by half a length or less.  Impressive. But what does all this mean for the race? Well:

At the start I see Plum Pretty bounding out from post position 3 to take the early lead.  She'll carry the uncontested lead into the first turn, with It's Tricky sitting just off her pace in second - probably a length behind.  It's Tricky will force Plum Pretty to push the pace slightly as they hit the back stretch - almost a carbon copy of the last race that each ran, in which the pair sat 1 and 2 until It's Tricky took the win on the line.

On the back stretch a definite order should develop.  Plum Pretty will continue to lead with It's Tricky a close second.  Royal Delta and Pinch Pie will sit third and fourth a length or so behind, with Inglorious and St. John's River at the back of the pack.

The field will begin to tighten as they hit the top of the turn with Inglorious and St. John's River beginning to push their way toward the front.  Plum Pretty will still be on the lead, with It's Tricky still sitting second, urging the front runner on.  At the top of the stretch Royal Delta and Pinch Pie will attempt to make their move to the front.  Their run will be short lived, though, as It's Tricky will begin her push.  It's Tricky will pull even with Plum Pretty just inside the stretch as St. John's River and Inglorious rally from their position, which is still at the back of the pack, to take over third and fourth.

And down the stretch they come with It's Tricky pulling ahead.  Plum Pretty will still sit second and the two will have to fight off the late onslaught of Saint John's River and Inglorious. Eventually, I believe It's Tricky will pull away from the field and cruise to victory.  Inglorious, the only horse to have run the distance, will use the extra furlong to place herself second. St. John's River's late speed will rally her up to finish third, just behind Inglorious. The valiant front runner Plum Pretty will put in a game effort, but the extra furlong will just be too much distance for her, she'll finish fourth. Royal Delta will have stayed close throughout the stretch run, but I believe she'll eventually be outclassed. She'll finish fifth, with Pinch Pie rounding out the group in sixth.

To me, this is It's Tricky's race to lose. Back to back wins in grade one stakes races coming into the race and five wins in six races is just too much to deny. Her impressive win over Turbulent Descent, who rick rolled the field in the grade one Test, is so impressive to me that I think Eddie Castro could take the lead in this race without going to the whip.  To me, she wins this race by at least a length, if not more.

The battle for second, however, will be much closer.  Above I mentioned that Inglorious will rally from farther back to take second, though I will not be surprised if St. John's River is there instead.  In fact, I may have just changed my mind, and I may change it four more times between now and post time.  These horses are so hard to separate.  I love that Inglorious has run this distance before, and it will undoubtedly help her, but St. John's River's finishes in graded stakes races, with two wins and no losses by more than half a length in her last five races, is very persuasive. I could also see Plum Pretty there for second as well, but I ultimately think having been pushed on the pace early by It's Tricky, the extra furlong will just be too much for her.

Depending on the odds, I'd play the 4-6-5-3 exacta or trifecta box.  I think It's Tricky wins, but who finishes second is a bit of a crap shoot with Inglorious, St. John's River and Plum Pretty. Odds wise, I think It's Tricky will be a very clear favorite, with St. John's River and Inglorious probably getting longer odds.  There should be some decent prices for several of the horses in this race.  A possible long shot could be Royal Delta, who at long enough odds would be worth a bet.

I'm incredibly excited for this race.  There's a lot of quality in it and it should be a good watch. Yes, I expect It's Tricky to win by a fair amount, but it will be interesting either way - and if she fails to come in then this race, which is already very competitive, will be wide open and ripe for the taking. Surely the other five horses aren't going to let It's Tricky waltz to victory, they'll have something to say about it.  I'll be there on Saturday and I hope you are too.  Look for my recap on the race to come out either Saturday night or Sunday afternoon in Talking Track: The Novice's Guide to the Saratoga Race Course.