Gainesway Stable, Harold Lerner, Andrew Rosen, Nehoc Racing and Magdalena Racing's Eskimo Kisses provided bettors with a 9-1 surprise in Saturday's Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, sneaking up the rail and kicking clear in the lane to win by 6 1/2 lengths. Jockey Jose Ortiz, who won last year's Alabama aboard Elate, followed the instructions of trainer Ken McPeek by staying inside on the sophomore daughter of To Honor and Serve. Ortiz and Eskimo Kisses stopped the clock at 2:03.22 for 1 1/4 miles over Saratoga's fast main track.
“We were hoping they would ignore us a little bit, and they did,” said McPeek. “The pace of the race was going to be a big deal for her, even the setup. She's had some races where it really didn't set up all that well for her, but we were waiting for this race….this was a race we were waiting for since February. She got about a thirty, forty-day break at my farm at Lexington, and there's a lot of people that put a lot of work in to get us here. My farm staff, my team at Keeneland and of course up here, but she's a really good filly, and things fell our way today.”
Steve Asmussen trains both the runner-up and third-place finishers in She's a Julie and 6-5 favorite Midnight Bisou.
Indiana Oaks winner Talk Veuve to Me set a very quick pace around the clubhouse turn, turning in fractions of :22.52 and :46.79 while just ahead of She's A Julie and Figarella's Queen. Meanwhile, favorite Midnight Bisou was wide on the course in about sixth position, eight lengths off the lead, and Eskimo Kisses was at the rear of the field.
Approaching the far turn, Mike Smith angled Midnight Bisou four wide to make her run while Ortiz kept the strong-moving Eskimo Kisses on the inside, gambling that he'd find a hole.
She's A Julie challenged Talk Veuve to me at the head of the lane and took the lead, but it was short-lived as Eskimo Kisses flew up alongside her and easily drew off. Eskimo Kisses kicked clear down the stretch, pulling away toward the wire to win by 6 1/2 lengths, but the battle was on for second between the two Asmussen trainees, She's A Julie and Midnight Bisou. The determined She's A Julie finished just ahead of her favored stablemate.
“I just followed instructions and did what Kenny told me to do,” said Ortiz. “Take her back, let her take me to the half-mile pole and then let her do the rest. I tried to stay inside as long as I could. She was there for me every time I asked her to move up and I'm just very happy with the way she ran today. I was going to be back there regardless; no matter [what] the fractions up front were because those were the instructions. She's a really nice filly, she deserved it. By the five-eighths pole I asked her to be a little closer and I could've moved at the three-eighths pole next to Midnight Bisou, but I decided to cut the corner and it worked out. Nobody was coming behind me because I was coming from behind.”
Bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Eskimo Kisses required four starts to break her maiden, and had not won a race since February at Oaklawn Park. The filly did manage to finish second in a pair of graded stakes, then ran fourth in her two most recent starts, both against Grade 1 company in the Kentucky Oaks and CCA Oaks. Overall, Eskimo Kisses has now won three of her 10 starts with four seconds, earning over $700,000.
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