The Brock Talk

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ladies Classic Should Prove Distaffers Deeper Than Just Zenyatta and Goldikova

When the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) became a staple of the inaurgural Breeders' Cup card, it was designed to showcase the greatest female stars of the sport. That it has done. It was the Distaff in those early years, but it might have well as been known as the inauguration.

From Princess Rooney and early years through Personal Ensign, Bayakoa, Paseanna and Azeri, this race has featured some of the great female runners of recent generations.

At $2,000,000 it is the richest of the Breeders’ Cup races, and at 1-1/8 miles, it is the second longest only to the Filly and Mare Turf at 1-3/8 miles. But Zenyatta, who has taken Churchill Downs by storm with her popularity; and Goldikova, trying to become the first horse to win the same Breeders’ Cup race three times in the Mile and wildly popular in her own right; and the early retirement of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, have seemed to have taken some of the shine out of the old Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

But this army of females casting their amazonian shadows over the colts and geldings at Churchill Downs has depth. Enough so that there are plenty in the Ladies Classic who can stand up on center stage and shine with the best of them.

Perhaps most accustomed to the spotlight at tracks around the country is the 3-year-old sensation Blind Luck. Third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. 1) last year as the West Coast favorite, Blind Luck has added some of the most prestigious races for 3-year-old fillies to her resume of victories. She has won the Las Virgenes (gr. 1) at Santa Anita, the Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs and the Alabama (gr. 1) at Saratoga among her five graded wins this year.

Although one might assume that a campaign such as that of Blind Luck would advance her above other 3-year-old fillies into to the older ranks of the Ladies Classic with some distance among her class. Not so with Havre de Grace who finished a nose behind Blind Luck in the Del Mar Oak (gr. 2), a neck behind in the Alabama and defeated her in the $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes (gr. 2) at Parx Racing near Philadephia. Although, Havre de Grace received a 10-pound advantage in the Cotillion, she has repeatedly shown she has no intention of cowering to Blind Luck.

Nor do any of the older fillies in this race including 7-2 second choice Life At Ten, the winner of the grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park Oct. 2 and six of her previous seven starts. Three of those wins came in graded races including the grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont in June. She hails from the powerful Todd Pletcher stable and took on Rachel Alexandra for the early lead in her only loss in the Personal Ensign (gr. 1) so she has plenty of bragging rights to bring into the Ladies Classic.

Pletcher will fire two 4-year-old fillies at the Ladies Classic, as he will also saddle Malibu Prayer, winner of the grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga in early August. Labeled at 8-1 on the morning line with Unrivaled Belle, Malibu Prayer seems to rise to her level of competition and has won the Chilukki Stakes (gr. 2) at Churchill Downs, so she may be fond of the track.

Unrivaled Belle also brings an impressive victory over the Churchill Downs surface into Friday’s race, having defeated Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne (gr. 2) back in April. The 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song was also nominated to the Filly and Mare Sprint, but trainer Bill Mott chose to go in the Ladies Classic after her half-mile work in :49 2/5 this week also noting her apparent fondness for the Churchill Downs surface.

This race has had a preponderance of popular winners with the favorites taking 10 of the 26 previous runnings. But what is notable is that the two biggest longshots to win the Ladies Classic, Spain, (paying $113.90 to win in 2000); and One Dreamer ($96.20 to win in 1994); both accomplished their big upsets at Churchill Downs. Even the last winner of the Ladies Classic at Churchill, Round Pond, paid a nice $29.80 in 2006.

Trainer Shug McGaughey has won this race three times with Personal Ensign in 1988 at Churchill Downs, Inside Information (’95) and Pleasant Home (2005). Personal Ensign paid $3.00 and Inside Information paid $3.60. But McGaughey won with Pleasant Home at a big price of $63.40 for a $2 win ticket at Belmont so he may be a likely candidate to pull a mild upset this year with Persistently.

Whatever the results of this Ladies Classic this year, the winning lady will like just be asked to sit among the court of Zenyatta and Goldikova in annals of Breeders’ Cup history. But there is certainly no shame in that.

No comments: