Go for Wand and the Unbreakable Alabama Record

Legends
Go For Wand dominated the 1990 Alabama Stakes with Randy Romero in the irons, setting the stakes record. (Skip Dickstein/BloodHorse photo)

“She’s amazing… She can sprint; she can go a distance… She’s getting better every race… She’s the best filly in the country right now.”

As reported by writer Jennie Rees in the Aug. 12, 1990 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal, those were the words of praise bestowed on Go for Wand by jockey Randy Romero after the champion filly dominated the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga in unprecedented fashion. What was supposed to be a two-horse showdown turned into something entirely different: a one-horse procession that remains unequaled to this day.

The Alabama Stakes is a historic and prestigious race for 3-year-old fillies that dates back to 1872. In the early years of its history, the Alabama was conducted over a wide variety of distances, but the last 101 renewals have been contested without interruption over the North American classic distance of 1 ¼ miles.

Generally speaking, the mark of a truly great performance by a 3-year-old over 1 ¼ miles is a final time of less than 2:01 seconds. Only a handful of Kentucky Derbies have been completed in such a fast time, and at Saratoga – which tends to play slower than many other tracks – a sub-2:01 clocking is very rare indeed.

In fact, when Go for Wand arrived at the starting gate for the 1990 Alabama Stakes, the stakes record was exactly 2:01 flat, set by Love Sign ten years prior. If any filly could break the 2:01 barrier, it figured to be Go for Wand, who was already compiling the record of a truly great horse. In 1989, she had won three of her four starts – including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – to be named champion 2-year-old filly of the year, and her 1990 campaign was off to a similarly impressive start with four wins from five starts. Just nine days before the Alabama, Go for Wand had won the Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga in the fast time of 1:21 for seven-eighths of a mile.

Whether anyone honestly thought Go for Wand would break the Alabama stakes record is open to question, but there was certainly a widespread pre-race belief that racing fans would be in for quite a treat. Although just two other fillies turned out to face Go for Wand, one of them – Charon – figured to give the favorite quite a fight.

After all, Charon entered the Alabama off of a victory in the prestigious Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, and earlier that spring she had pushed Go for Wand hard in the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes, finishing just 1 ½ lengths behind at the wire. Could Charon turn the tables in the Alabama over the testing mile-and-a-quarter distance?

The answer was apparent early in the race. Go for Wand, breaking well under regular rider Romero, sprinted to the front from the outside post position, her long white blaze bobbing up and down as she cleared her rivals and dropped in toward the rail. Charon, with Craig Perret in the saddle, readily conceded the early advantage before shifting to the outside and settling into a pressing position one length behind.

For a time, it appeared that Charon might be poised to mount a challenge. But as the field moved down the backstretch and into the far turn, Go for Wand began to extend her advantage without encouragement from Romero, whereas Charon was struggling to keep up while under urging from Perret. The early pace had been modest – just :48 flat for the half-mile and 1:11 2/5 for three-quarters of a mile – and as a result, Go for Wand had plenty left in the tank for the drive down the homestretch.

Romero’s body language spoke volumes. Approaching the homestretch, having still not asked Go for Wand to run, he glanced back over his shoulder to check on the competition. Seeing Charon within the range, but under pressure to keep up, Romero asked Go for Wand to deliver her finishing flourish, and she did so without hesitation. She flew past the quarter pole in 1:36 flat, then started pulling away bit by bit, leaving the gallant but beaten Charon farther and farther behind.

“I hear Craig smooching to his mare, trying to get into the race at the five-eighths pole and I thought, ‘If he’s doing that already, I’m in good shape.’ It was just a matter of how far I’m going to win by,” explained Romero in the Courier-Journal.

Yes, how far? Go for Wand’s margin kept growing as the wire approached, finally reaching seven lengths as the champion filly flew home alone, victorious in spectacular fashion. And the most glorious aspect was her final time; with her decisive drive to the finish line, Go for Wand stopped the timer in 2:00 4/5.

“That’s why Go for Wand is the champion,” Perret told the Courier-Journal. “I thought my filly would have a good chance against her going a mile-and-a-quarter. She ran her heart out, but the other filly is just a super horse.”

Nearly thirty years have passed since Go for Wand established her stakes record in the Alabama, and to this day, it remains unequaled and untouched. No other filly has run the race in less than 2:01 flat, placing Go for Wand in a league of her own among the many legendary winners of the Alabama.

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