Jockey Jose Ortiz picked up his second straight victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, with a dramatic last-to-first run aboard longshot Eskimo Kisses in the 138th running of the 1 ¼-mile feature for 3-year-old fillies.
Trained by Kenny McPeek, Eskimo Kisses trailed in the eight-horse field through the early going, spotting the pacesetting Talk Veuve to Me 15 ½ lengths up the backstretch. Talk Veuve to Me, last-out winner of the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks, held a 1 ½-length advantage over She’s a Julie through an opening quarter-mile in 22.52 seconds and a half in 46.79. Midnight Bisou, the 6-5 post-time favorite, settled in fifth, about seven lengths ahead of Eskimo Kisses.
Eskimo Kisses began her run near the five-eighths pole and followed Midnight Bisou, under Hall of Famer Mike Smith, three wide through the final turn as Talk Veuve to Me continued the quick pace up front, covering six furlongs in 1:11.86. Ortiz guided Eskimo Kisses towards the rail at the top of the stretch, putting away a brief challenge from Midnight Bisou and She’s a Julie at the head of the lane, then swept by a tiring Talk Veuve to Me in mid-stretch and drew off in the final eighth of a mile to win by 6 ½ lengths.
She’s a Julie outfinished Midnight Bisou by a neck for second in a blanket finish. Talk Veuve to Me held on for fourth with Coach Rocks, Piedi Bianchi, Auspicious Babe, and Figarella’s Queen completing the order of finish.
The winning time was 2:03.22 over a fast main track. Eskimo Kisses, off at 9-1, returned $20 for a $2 win wager.
2018 Alabama Replay
“I just followed instructions and did what Kenny told me to do,” said Ortiz, who rode Elate to a 5 ½-length victory in last year’s Alabama. “Take her back, let her take me to the half-mile pole and then let her do the rest. I tried to stay inside as long as I could. She was there for me every time I asked her to move up and I’m just very happy with the way she ran today. I was going to be back there regardless; no matter [what] the fractions up front were because those were the instructions. She’s a really nice filly, she deserved it.”
The win was the third overall and first in a stakes for Eskimo Kisses, who earned Grade 1 placing in April with a runner-up finish in the Ashland at Keeneland, her first of three straight meetings with Monomoy Girl. Eskimo Kisses was fourth to that rival in the Kentucky Oaks on May 4 and finished fourth again in their latest meeting, crossing the wire 8 ½ lengths behind prohibitive 3-year-old champion filly in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 22 at Saratoga.
“She’s a big, late-running type,” said McPeek, who won his first Grade 1 at Saratoga since saddling Golden Ticket to a dead-heat victory in the 2012 Travers. “She’s a filly that likes a little heavier going, and I think it was that today, and she went a mile and a quarter. I told Jose to sit on her a certain way and we couldn’t control what fractions they gave us, we just had to hope it unfolded for us. We love these kinds of races and it’s an honor to get horses that can compete in them.”
Eskimo Kisses, owned by Gainesway Stable, Harold Lerner, Andrew Rosen, Nehoc Stables, and Magdalena Racing, improved her career earnings to $698,935.