Most expected Saturday’s $600,000 Alabama (G1) at Saratoga to clear up any ambiguity remaining about who is the nation’s best three-year-old filly on dirt. However, the candidates for that honor all sputtered when jockey Javier Castellano turned in a front-running clinic aboard Embellish the Lace in the historic 1 1/4-mile race.

Multiple Grade 1 winners Curalina and Lovely Maria, along with Mother Goose (G1) heroine Include Betty and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) queen I’m a Chatterbox, were all favored ahead of Embellish the Lace, but the daughter of Super Saver was taking noticeable action herself, dropping from her 10-1 morning line price to 6-1 at post time.

There was an actual case to be made for the front-running filly beforehand. After dueling herself into submission in the Mother Goose through splits of :22 3/5 and :45 2/5, it was unlikely new rider Castellano was going to allow something similar happen going three-sixteenths farther. If allowed to set an easy, uncontested pace, she could conceivably win it.

Holding a comfortable advantage through splits of :24.03, :48.38, 1:12.85, and 1:37.33, Embellish the Lace put away stalkers Curalina and Lovely Maria at the top of the stretch, opened up in the lane and held off a late bid from I’m a Chatterbox to score by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:01.97. Curalina was 3 1/2 lengths farther back in third, with Include Betty fifth and Lovely Maria seventh.

Owned by Alex and JoAnn Lieblong and trained by Tony Dutrow, Embellish the Lace paid $14 to win.

This was the first career stakes win for Embellish the Lace, who ran fifth in her six-furlong Aqueduct debut last November but returned a month later to win by more than 10 lengths at Parx going one mile and 70 yards.

Not seen again until June 4, Embellish the Lace came back with a 13 3/4-length allowance win at Pimlico over 1 1/16 miles, and last time wilted to ninth in the Mother Goose at Belmont.

With none of the Alabama favorites able to emerge as the division’s leading dirt performer, turf specialist Lady Eli perhaps continues to be the favorite for championship honors despite the fact no filly exclusively campaigned on turf has ever won the award. However, due to her recent bout of laminitis, it seems increasingly unlikely she will be seen in action again this year if she recovers fully.

It’s still not too late for any of Alabama protagonists, including Embellish the Lace herself, to pad their resumes this fall, but actual wins against older females in races like the Beldame (G1), Spinster (G1), and the Breeders Cup Distaff (G1) especially, appear to be required.

Earlier in the card, Shore Runner backed up his win in the July 27 Lucky Coin with another come-from-behind score in the $100,000 Troy, thus sweeping Saratoga’s major turf sprint stakes.

Under Kendrick Carmouche, Shore Runner showed good acceleration in the stretch to win by a half-length in a time of 1:02.18 for 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

Undefeated in three starts for owner Brad Grady and trainer Joe Sharp since being claimed for $62,500 at Belmont on June 10, Shore Runner has the look of a solid Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) contender. It would be no surprise to see him get in a course-and-distance prep in the $150,000 Woodford (G3) at Keeneland October 3.

(Embellish the Lace photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)