By Claire Crosby
Eskimo Kisses was last of all early but full of run when it counted Aug. 18 in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course.
The To Honor and Serve filly spotted pacesetter Talk Veuve to Me 15 1/2 lengths up the backside, but picked up steam headed into the final turn under Jose Ortiz and shifted out to run down the leader.
Off at odds of 9-1 in a field of eight 3-year-old fillies for the 1 1/4-mile test, Eskimo Kisses drew off to her first graded stakes score by 6 1/2 lengths in a final time of 2:03.22.
Midnight Bisou, favored at 6-5, finished third behind runner-up She’s a Julie, who pressed the pace early.
“We were hoping they would ignore us a little bit, and they did,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “The pace of the race was going to be a big deal for her, even the setup. She’s had some races where it really didn’t set up all that well for her.”
Indiana Oaks (G3) winner Talk Veuve to Me set a quick tempo in the Alabama, giving Eskimo Kisses plenty of pace to close into. After fractions of 22.52, 46.90, and 1:11.86, the spotlight shifted to the dirt-splattered filly who was no longer bringing up the rear.
“She’s a big, late-running type. 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,” McPeek said. “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. … I felt like I was a winner at the half-mile pole the way they were already backing up to her when he hadn’t moved. I’d given him instructions not to move until they straightened up, and when she split horses and he still hadn’t moved, I was counting, just get to the wire.”
Ortiz said the plan came together.
“I just followed instructions and did what Kenny told me to do: Take her back, let her take me to the half-mile pole, and then let her do the rest,” Ortiz said. “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.”
Eskimo Kisses hit the front as a mile went in 1:37.90, and drew off down the lane. Grade 1 winner Midnight Bisou, off a July 22 second to Monomoy Girl in the 1 1/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), made a four-wide move but never threatened the winner and could not get past She’s a Julie, who re-rallied after getting passed to earn second by a neck.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said Midnight Bisou does not get over the Saratoga surface well.
“A mile and a quarter might be a bit too far, and this is probably not her favorite racetrack,” Smith said. “She moves over Belmont better than she moves over this track. I said it the first time (after the Coaching Club American Oaks) and I say it even more this time. You watch her head at Belmont and she holds her head up as pretty as can be. She really struggles with it (at Saratoga).”
Eskimo Kisses, who came off a fourth in the Coaching Club American Oaks, landed her third win and her first since February, when she broke her maiden and picked up an allowance score, both at Oaklawn Park. After running second in March in the Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), she earned a grade 1 placing in April with a runner-up finish in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland, her first of three straight meetings with Monomoy Girl. She was fourth to that rival in the May 4 Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) before a brief rest set her up for her summer campaign.
Eskimo Kisses, owned by Gainesway Stable, Harold Lerner, Andrew Rosen, Nehoc Stables, and Magdalena Racing, improved her earnings to $698,935. She was bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds out of the Mr. Greeley mare Silver Colors, a daughter of Hall of Famer Winning Colors. Silver Colors foaled a Union Rags filly this year, and has an Empire Maker colt consigned by Gainesway as Hip 406 to the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Eskimo Kisses is her first grade 1 winner.
“She got about a 30 or 40-day break at my farm at Lexington, and there’s a lot of people that put a lot of work in to get us here,” McPeek said of the filly’s journey to the top. “My farm staff, my team at Keeneland, and of course up here. But she’s a really good filly, and things fell our way today.”