SARATOGA SPRINGS Irad Ortiz Jr. did a slinky little shimmy as he gleefully described his winning ride to a valet and another rider back at the jocks’ room.
Still giddy from the previous race and no time for a shower, Ortiz quickly changed silks and started to jog out to the paddock for the 11th, only to be halted by shouts that he had forgotten his number tag.
His filly, Questing, had just done a goofy shimmy of her own, zigzagging in the stretch, but youthful exuberance outshone everything and everybody as she romped in spectacular fashion for a nine-length win and a 2:01.29 clocking in the 132nd Alabama before 34,308 at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
The jockey from Puerto Rico suffered no ill effects from a gate injury on Friday that sent him to Saratoga Hospital for X-rays, nor a spill in Saturday’s sixth race that sent him rolling like a rag doll on the Mellon turf.
And Questing did not suffer for the fast pace she set all the way around the track, nor her antics at the three-sixteenths pole, actually drawing away from In Lingerie inside the eighth pole.
The victory gives Godolphin Racing’s Questing, who also won the Coaching Club American Oaks on opening weekend, a firm claim to the top spot in the 3-year-old filly division.
“I could not imagine this kind of margin of victory,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “I mean, these are very good fillies, and she just ran away from them. It’s incredible, really. I thought she could win, but not the way she did it.”
Mother Goose winner Zo Impressive finished fourth, then was vanned off with a career-threatening broken right front cannon bone, which did not appear to be life-threatening, according to on-call veterinarian Dr. Celeste Kunz.
It only slightly dampened the effervescent performance by Questing and Ortiz.
It was the third Grade I victory for the jockey, who just turned 20 last Saturday, at this meet and in his young career. He also was aboard for the CCA Oaks and won the A.G. Vanderbilt on Poseidon’s Warrior.
On Friday, Ortiz was on Corinzia when she acted up in the gate as they loaded for the third race, then he was off with an injured right ankle as she was scratched.
X-rays were clean, and he was cleared to ride, but he had another misadventure in the sixth on Saturday, when his mount, Mightylover, clipped heels with Fast Grievance in the back of the field on the second turn, pitching Ortiz outside. He wasn’t in jeopardy of being trampled, but did two crazy sideways rolls on the ground. Post time for the Alabama was just over two hours later.
“I was concerned, but I spoke to him this morning and I knew, after yesterday, he had to be . . . knocked . . . out . . . for them to take him to the hospital,” McLaughlin said. “He said he didn’t want to go to the hospital [Friday], so I knew he was probably going to ride our filly one way or another. He has youth on his side.”
Ortiz laughed it all off.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Yesterday, today, and thank god, I’m OK and 100 percent to ride this filly. Nothing much [hurt]. I’m pretty good. I’m a younger guy. It’s good, when you’re young, you know?”
Questing, a bay daughter of Hard Spun who began her career in England and began her 3-year-old season in the U.S. with two turf starts, has won her last three starts by a combined 17 lengths since being put back on the dirt.
On Saturday, she faced the second and third finishers from the CCA Oaks, Zo Impressive and In Lingerie; 2011 Spinaway winner Grace Hall, who went off as the even-money favorite; and a mile and a quarter for the first time.
Questing pretty much raced as if no one else was there, though, snapping through a quarter-mile in 22.84, a half in 46.01 and six furlongs in 1:09.74. Her finish time of 2:01.29 was the fastest in 22 years and one of the fastest in Alabama history since they settled on the mile-and-a-quarter distance in 1917.
“She went so fast that I couldn’t feel it,” Ortiz said. “I felt like she could go that fast all the way.”
“I was nervous about the fractions, but she was doing it the right way.”
“In these situations, you finish second and tip your hat to the winner,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains In Lingerie. “There’s nothing else we could have done.”
Questing did it despite running a path well deviated from a straight line in the stretch.
At the three-sixteenths pole, she ducked out, then back in after a few strides. At the eighth pole, she drifted wider again, reminiscent of her finish in the CCA Oaks, which she won by 41⁄4 lengths.
Ortiz, again, laughed it all off.
“Ohhh, she was waiting for the horses,” he said. “She was playing. It’s so funny, because I started riding, and she just was waiting, waiting, and she kept going the same pace . . . wow. I never had a horse like that.”
“I think she was ducking each way a little bit instead of all to the outside,” McLaughlin said. “But as long as she’s five in front, I’m not worried about it. I think she’s looking. She wasn’t getting tired, she was just looking around.”
Now, everyone is looking at her.
Grace Hall was said to be the horse to beat, but “didn’t fire at all,” jockey Javier Castellano said, after she backed up on the turn and finished fifth by a margin familiar to racing fans — 31 lengths.
Addressing a suggestion that Questing could face males at some point, McLaughlin joked, “The Travers is back a little quick.”
But this much is clear: “She’s definitely the best 3-year-old filly in America on the dirt,” he said.