SARATOGA SPRINGS — Normally, if a filly had won against colts by the time she entered the Grade I Alabama, she would be shown tremendous respect.
In Holy Helena’s case, she’s got to wait in line for that. In one of the deepest Alabamas in recent memory, the winner of Canada’s first leg of its Triple Crown, the $1 million Queen’s Plate, is only the second choice on the morning line.
While divisional leader Abel Tasman won’t be running, all the other best 3-year-old fillies are lining up for the $600,000 dance. They include Mother Goose winner Unchained Melody, Black Eyed Susan winner Actress, Coaching Club American Oaks runner-up Elate, Delaware Oaks winner It Tiz Well, Gulfstream Park Oaks winner and Acorn runner-up Salty, Mother Goose runner-up Lockdown and New Money Honey, who is coming off two graded stakes turf wins but switching to the dirt.
Unraced at 2, Holy Helena has three wins and a second in four starts this year. Following her 1-length win in the Woodbine Oaks, she went off as the 2-1 favorite in the Queen’s Plate and won by 3 1/2 lengths. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens knows this Alabama field is a step up for his filly.
“They just look like they’re better horses, out and out,” Jerkens said. “Not taking anything away from them, but when a filly wins (the Woodbine Oaks) and then you go off a big favorite against colts, they’re obviously not the cream of the crop.”
But the Queen’s Plate did give Holy Helena a win over the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Alabama, though done on Woodbine’s Tapeta synthetic surface. That’s something only New Money Honey has done, and on the turf.
“No question about it, she’s certainly got good stamina,” Jerkens said of his filly. Jerkens also didn’t seem concerned about switching back to dirt, noting she broke her maiden over it at Belmont Park.
Holy Helena will get a jockey switch from Luis Contreras to John Velazquez.
Unchained Melody is the only filly in the field to have received a three-digit Beyer Speed Figure, and her 100 came in her 3-length win in the Grade II Mother Goose on July 1 at Belmont. Like Holy Helena, she also was unraced at 2 and has three wins and a second from four starts this year. This, however, will be her first try beyond 1 1/16 miles, so the jump in distance is significant for the filly with early speed.
“I don’t think there is a lot of speed,” trainer Brian Lynch said, “so if she’s comfortable on the lead, then I’ll leave her alone. A lot of horses do well up here this time of year, and she appears to be one of them.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has a pair running: Elate and Lockdown. Elate lost to Abel Tasman by a head in the CCA Oaks, and didn’t get the benefit of a stewards inquiry. Prior to that she had an unlisted stakes win at Delaware Park. Lockdown won twice on the Aqueduct inner dirt, but has two seconds and a third in graded stakes.
New Money Honey gamely held off Sistercharlie to win the Grade I Belmont Oaks by a neck in an impressive time of 1 minute, 59.89 seconds for the mile and a quarter.
“It’s something I’ve always thought about; running her on the dirt now seems like the right time to try it. The distance of the race should really suit her,” trainer Chad Brown said.