When it was over, the winner’s circle at Saratoga Race Course after the tenth race on Aug. 20 looked like Times Square at rush hour. Wave after wave of those who call themselves family – or friends – of the gregarious Mike Repole descended upon the mall enclosure at the finish line, the holy grail at the Spa. There were 100 people stuffed in there. Probably more.
If you get to go in there, your horse has done some good.
Nest, partly owned by Repole, continued her meteoric rise through the ranks of the 3-year-old female division when she throttled six other fillies in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes in front of 39,127 sun-baked fans on a steamy late summer afternoon.
Yes, she had done some good. And all the happy people were there to whoop it up and cheer on their heroine.
Nest, also owned by Aron Wellman’s Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, won the 1 ¼-mile race by an easy-as-you-please 4 ¼ lengths. Had jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. chose to persist with Nest, the margin would have been bigger, but he put on the brakes inside the sixteenth pole and let the daughter of Curlin ease on home.
“It’s at the point where this is what you expect from her,” Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said as the party was just getting started in the winner’s circle. “It takes a little while to build a résumé like that. She has run well in every start of her life.”
“You dream of things like this,” Repole said as his entourage kept growing. “What was I thinking watching it? This is one of the best 3-year-old fillies ever.”
“She is as special as they come,” said Wellman, who had a fair amount of folks of his own in the winner’s circle celebration. “I’ve stood in this grandstand and applauded a lot of champions, but never my own.”
With the Alabama slammer in her pocket, Nest has won six of the nine races she has run in and pocketed $1,735,550. This was her fifth consecutive Grade 1 race. She has a stranglehold on the Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old filly. She has now won three of those Grade 1s, including Saratoga’s two crown jewel events for her age group, and finished second in two others including the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets against the boys.
And what is so very scary for the rest of the fillies that might dare to take her on the rest of the way, Nest might just be getting better.
You would get no argument from any of those that were left in her wake on Saturday.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, complete with white cowboy hat on top of his head, was walking off into the sunset through the Saratoga clubhouse and he admitted he was beat by the best.
Lukas had brought Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath back for a rubber match with Nest in the Alabama. In the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 23, Secret Oath got creamed, losing to Nest by 12 ¼ lengths. But back in May when contesting the Kentucky Oaks, Secret Oath, a daughter of Arrogate, was two lengths better than Nest.
Lukas was certain that Nest was not a dozen lengths better than his horse. And he was right. He carved eight lengths off his deficit but was still no match.
“We got outrun by a better horse,” Lukas said. “I’m not frustrated. I’m a realist.”
The only anxious moment Nest had was at the start when she hit the outside of the gate and had an awkward beginning. If Pletcher or Repole or anyone else in the Nest camp started to gasp, it didn’t last because Nest and Ortiz were right back in the game after a few steps, stalking pacesetter and longshot She’s Keen.
The fractions of :24.39, :49.44 and 1:14.37 were not blazing. And it only set things up even better for Nest.
“The fractions on the backside were a little bit slow, which meant (Nest) was going to kick on,” Lukas said. “I was worried about that, but we were close enough. We should have kicked on, too.”
Nest took the lead as she got near the quarter pole and that is when Secret Oath and jockey Luis Saez made a move and, for a second, it looked like the Alabama might have some drama. It did not come.
“It was a great feeling (turning for home),” Ortiz said. “I knew she would take off.”
Once she did, no one was catching her. The 0.35-1 favorite cruised home in a time of 2:03.14.
“These are the ones that when you expect, and are expected to win, those are always the highest pressure situations,” said Pletcher, who won the Alabama for the second year in a row and fourth time overall. “You just want everything to go smoothly.”
Secret Oath finished two lengths in front of Pletcher’s other runner, Goddess of Fire. The remaining order of finish was Skratch Kat, Gerrymander, Nostalgic and She’s Keen.–Tim Wilkin