August Belmont himself won the first Alabama Stakes with his Woodbine in 1872. Fifteen years later, Americans began naming a champion among their 3-year-old fillies and future Hall of Famer Firenze took the first trophy without winning the Alabama. But it be only one year before the Alabama would impact the championship as Bella B. won the Alabama and champion 3-year-old filly title in 1888.
Since then 36 Alabama Stakes winners have also been named the divisional champion at year’s end. Hall of Fame mares such as Beldame (1904) (photo left), Maskette (’09), Gamely (’67) and Go For Wand (’90) all were named champion fillies after their victories in the Alabama. Silverbulletday (’99), Open Mind (’89), Life’s Magic (’84), Vagrancy (’42) and Cleopatra (’20) are also among the more popular on the list of Alabama winning champion 3-year-old fillies.
With all of that history, however, last year’s Alabama was among the most exciting and may be well remembered in thoroughbred racing history.
By the time the Alabama came in August last year, Blind Luck had won four of six races, including the Fantasy Stakes (gr. 2) at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, the Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1 at Churchill Downs and the Delaware Oaks (gr. 2).
But the favorite for the Alabama was Devil May Care, a large filly from the powerful Todd Pletcher barn that had finished 10th against the boys in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1). But Devil May Care had since returned to her division and easily won the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. 1) at Belmont Park by more than four lengths in a canter.
Devil May Care was odds-on at 3-5 while support for Blind Luck was not far behind as she went to the post at 9-5. A distant third choice was Havre de Grace, who had come to New York after finishing a close second to Blind Luck in the Delaware Oaks (gr. 2) the race prior.
After the break, the field assembled into an order that would stay relatively the same until mid-way on the far turn. Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. 2) speedstress Acting Happy had led the race through a dawdling early pace with the first six furlongs taking 1:14 4/5 seconds to complete but shortly thereafter the excitement level exploded.
Turning for home long shot Acting Happy still had the lead but Havre de Grace and Devil May Care had launched their attacks. Just behind them, the stretch running Blind Luck was also now in full stride on the far outside.
Nearing the black and white pole just one-sixteenth of a mile from the finish, track announcer Tom Durkin called it: “Top of the Stretch! Acting Happy a stubborn foe. Havre de Grace also right there and Blind Luck is gaining on them with every stride!”
Blind Luck and Havre de Grace would battle to the wire with the former winning by just a neck over Havre de Grace with Acting Happy less than a length back in third.
It was the second consecutive time that Blind Luck (photo) and Havre de Grace would finish one-two respectively, but it was the beginning of one the better rivalries in recent history. The two have now raced against each other six times and in five of those races, they finished first and second. Only in the grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last November at Churchill Downs, did they finish second and third behind winner Unrivaled Belle.
This year, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace have raced against each other twice. Havre de Grace beat Blind Luck in the grade 3 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn in the Spring before Blind Luck turned the tables on Havre de Grace, winning the Delaware Handicap (gr. 2) last month. With no male stars grabbing center stage and both mares having three graded victories this year, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are mentioned in 2011 Horse of the Year discussions.
Blind Luck would be the first winner of the Alabama Stakes to later be named Horse of the Year, but has a very good chance to join Primonetta, Gamely, Sky Beauty, Desert Vixen, Tempted and Life’s Magic as Alabama winners to be named champion in the years following their Alabama win.
No matter what happens in the remaining months and races that will be 2011, the 2010 running of the Alabama will be well remembered. And to be among the top versions of a race with 130 years of history with champions dotted throughout, is special indeed.