SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When trainer Larry Jones last brought a Kentucky Oaks winner to Saratoga Race Course, Proud Spell captured the Grade 1 Alabama en route to 3-year-old filly championship honors.
Seven years later, Jones will try again with Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks heroine Lovely Maria as well as her multiple graded stakes-winning stablemate I'm a Chatterbox in Saturday's 135th running of the $600,000 Alabama.
Thirteen horses have won both the Alabama, first run in 1872, and the Oaks, which dates back to 1875. It has been done twice since Proud Spell; Blind Luck in 2010 and Princess of Sylmar in 2013.
"They got in about 6:45 this morning and they're both doing well," Jones said on Wednesday. "All is good. They both blew out on Monday and breezed well. We galloped them Tuesday morning and they came out of it well, so here we are."
Brereton Jones' Lovely Maria has not raced since running an even fifth as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks July 11. The loss snapped a two-race win streak that included the Grade 1 Ashland as well as the Oaks. It was only the second time in nine starts that the bay Majesticperfection filly was worse than third, and the first this year.
"We used the Delaware Oaks to prep for here," Jones said. "All the horses down there went through a little sick spell. Some kind of a virus had gone through the barn and the race came back up a little more sudden for her than for I'm a Chatterbox. [Lovely Maria] hadn't quite gotten over the virus, but she's doing well now. She had two really good breezes for this. I think she's back."
Fletcher and Carolyn Gray's I'm a Chatterbox won three consecutive stakes to open her sophomore campaign - the Silverbulletday, Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra over Lovely Maria, and Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks - before closing to be third in the Kentucky Oaks. Most recently, she led from start to finish in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks July 26 at Saratoga, only to be disqualified to second behind Curalina for interference.
"You always wonder when they run that big off a long layoff because she had had a couple of months [heading into the CCA Oaks], but she appears well," Jones said. "Everything seems good." Lovely Maria, with Kerwin Clark, and I'm a Chatterbox, to be ridden by Florent Giroux, will break side-by-side from posts 3 and 4, respectively. All horses will carry 121 pounds.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Curalina enters the Alabama on a four-race win streak that includes the Grade 1 Acorn June 6 at Belmont Park. Her trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won back-to-back editions of the Alabama, with Princess of Sylmar and Stopchargingmaria, respectively.
All four of her wins have come this year after making one start at 2, when she finished second in her debut last summer at Saratoga. Like the rest of her rivals, the chestnut daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin will be trying 1 ¼ miles for the first time in the Alabama.
"She had some shin issues last year and we had to stop and give her some time off," Pletcher said. "We were very high on her last year, and everything she's done since coming back this year has been what we would hope for. She seems to be getting better, and I believe the mile and a quarter should not be an issue for her."
Curalina will carry Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez from post 2.
Also coming out of the CCA Oaks are third- and fourth-place finishers Include Betty and Danette. Co-owned by Brereton Jones and Tim Thornton, Include Betty won the Grade 1 Mother Goose and Grade 3 Fantasy and was second in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan this year, finishing eighth in the Kentucky Oaks.
Danette needed 13 tries to break her maiden, beating older horses July 2 at Belmont Park, but was Grade 1 tested, having run third in the Chandelier and fifth by 1 ½ lengths in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last year.
"It was the lucky 13, finally," said Julie Clark, assistant to California-based trainer Keith Desormeaux. "After the Breeders' Cup she just kind of got off form a little bit and had some little issues we just couldn't get her physically and mentally by too quickly. Now, she's awesome. She's training so strong, we're not at all worried. Her body feels good and she feels good."
Drayden Van Dyke rides Include Betty from post 6, while Danette will break from post 1 with Junior Alvarado.
Six Column Stables and Randall Bloch's Sweetgrass tries Grade 1 company for the first time off a trio of graded stakes efforts, most recently finishing second by a length in the Grade 2 Indiana Oaks July 18. She was third, beaten a half-length, in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks in her previous start.
"She ran in the Indiana Oaks and I was going to take her back home, but she came out of the race really good and doing so well so I shipped her up here to get her a couple works over the track," said trainer Ian Wilkes, who was an assistant to Hall of Famer Carl Nafzger when he won the 1998 Alabama with Banshee Breeze. "She's been quite professional. She's done well, and I'm happy with her."
Rounding out the Alabama field is Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's Embellish the Lace, a bay daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver trained by Tony Dutrow. She won her last start at 2 and first at 3 by a combined 24 lengths, but hasn't raced since fading to ninth after dueling for the early lead in the Mother Goose.
Two-time defending Spa riding champion Javier Castellano gets the call on Embellish the Lace from post 5.