The Alabama Stakes Saturday at Saratoga race track offers a genuine championship confrontation: Mom's Command versus Fran's Valentine, the best 3-year-old filly in the East versus the best in the West.
Both of them bring exemplary records into the nation's oldest stakes races for females. Mom's Command ran away with New York's filly triple crown series. Fran's Valentine is five for six this year, including victories in the Kentucky Oaks and the Hollywood Oaks.
Mom's Command has a real edge: her speed. She is faster than any 3-year-old filly in the country, and much faster than her rivals in the Alabama. "I can't imagine her not having the lead," trainer Ned Allard said. "I think Fran's Valentine has a problem that we don't steal the race."
Fran's Valentine usually lays off the pace, but jockey Chris McCarron will have to alter her usual style to prevent the leader from getting too far in front. So Mom's Command will have a tactical advantage.
But it also is possible that Mom's Command won't be at her best, that she is about to tail off after showing brilliant form for months. Allard and owner Peter Fuller have treated their filly as if she is an iron horse, a superhorse. They already have asked more of her than most top thoroughbreds could deliver.
In addition, they've given the riding assignment to Fuller's daughter, Abby, who doesn't seem to be able to help Mom's Command or control her blazing speed. They ran her in three early-season stakes, then sent her through the gruelling filly triple crown series that gave her virtually no breather before the 1 1/4-mile Alabama. She lost a prep race, the Test Stakes, last week at Saratoga, even though the seven-furlong distance should have been optimal for her.
The others in the Alabama field are Foxy Deen, Raise a Q. and Golden Horde. Only Golden Horde, who won the Monmouth Oaks in her last start, is a marginal contender.