The potential field and top contenders for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) might be unclear at this point, but the same can’t be said for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), which could be among the highlights of the championship series at Santa Anita Park this fall.
There’s no shortage of high-class fillies and mares targeting the Distaff, and in compiling an initial Top 10 ranking of the early contenders, I’ve included eight grade 1 winners (one of them a champion), plus two grade 2 winners.
Who do you view as the early favorites for success in the Distaff? Here’s how they stack up in my mind.
The champion 3-year-old of 2018 has crossed the finish line first in 10 of her 11 races and was clearly best in last year’s Distaff. Unfortunately an episode of colic has delayed her 2019 debut, but assuming she returns in good form, she’ll have a strong chance to defend her Distaff title.
Midnight Bisou hasn’t lost since she finished third behind Monomoy Girl in the Distaff and is 3-for-3 in 2019, most recently unleashing a determined finish to win the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn. Among the fillies and mares who have raced this year, Midnight Bisou is a clear leader of the Distaff division, though in something of an oddity, she’s winless in three starts at the Distaff’s 1 1/8-mile distance.
She’s a Julie
This up-and-coming 4-year-old overcame a tough trip to win the La Troienne Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs to bring her record this year to a perfect 2-for-2. Her improvement over the last two seasons has been slow but steady, and she gives the impression of being a filly who will thrive running 1 1/8 miles.
On her best day Elate can hold her own with any filly in the country, though she was a bit dull in the Apple Blossom, where she weakened in the drive to finish third by 2 3/4 lengths. But two starts back, she finished just a length behind Midnight Bisou after a wide trip in the Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn, suggesting she just had an off day in the Apple Blossom. Elate has done her best running at 1 1/8 miles or farther, so expect her to show improvement traversing longer distances down the road.
With the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, Paradise Woods could be the main beneficiary. She’s been known to turn in explosive performance over the Santa Anita main track and recently ended a seven-race losing streak by crushing the 1 1/8-mile Santa Margarita Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita by 10 1/2 lengths, which earned her a 100 Beyer.
Point of Honor
With three wins from four starts, this lightly raced daughter of Curlin is on the rise and showcased her abundant stamina while rallying to win the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) at Pimlico with a determined rally. Her pedigree is strongly oriented toward stamina and late maturity, so there’s a good chance we’ll see Point of Honor continue to improve with leaps and bounds as the year progresses.
This tough-as-nails Manitoba-bred mare has won 20 of her 31 starts, including the La Canada Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, and she ran a gallant race last time out in the Apple Blossom, failing by just a nose to stem off Midnight Bisou’s late charge. I don’t know if she really wants to run 1 1/8 miles, but her class and determination should secure her plenty of wins at shorter distances this year.
The Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner has a reputation for inconsistency—she either wins or runs off the board by a wide margin—but when she’s ready to roll, she’s a frontrunning force. The Oaks was supposed to be filled with frontrunners and speed horses, but Serengeti Empress made a mockery of that notion, seizing the lead at the start and leading all the way to win by 1 3/4 lengths. She was actually pulling away in the final furlong.
She has disappointed in the two biggest races of her career—the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and the Kentucky Oaks—but both of those races were at Churchill Downs, and they represent her only starts outside of California. If Bellafina simply has a disdain for Churchill Downs (or for shipping cross-country in general), then she should enjoy having the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, where she’s unbeaten in four starts.
Secret Spice was 11-1 when she upset the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita in March, but she proved her performance was no fluke when she came back to finish second by a half-length against She’s a Julie in the La Troienne. Secret Spice is another filly who will have a home-court advantage at Santa Anita this fall.