If you think you’ve still got plenty of time to wait before diving into handicapping the 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships… think again!
The deadline for pre-entries is October 22nd, just one week away, and the prospective fields will be released to the public shortly thereafter, so we’re definitely in the homestretch of the lead-up to these much-anticipated championship races.
Certainly one of the highlights of every Breeders’ Cup is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), a major early prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. The expected field for this year’s edition is filled with talented young fillies, and with just 2 ½ weeks until the race is run, here’s how I rank the top contenders….
By virtue of winning three straight graded stakes races, including the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) and the Chandelier Stakes (gr. I), Bellafina has emerged as by far the most accomplished two-year-old filly so far this season, and she’s also the fastest in terms of Beyer speed figures. With her excellent tactical speed and ability to rate off the lead, she has to be considered the horse to beat.
Granted, she wasn’t facing much in the way of serious competition, but Serengeti Empress was visually spectacular winning the Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs by 19 ½ lengths while never asked for her best run. This three-time winner has plenty of experience, and her familiarity with Churchill Downs is a positive.
Restless Rider is another filly with a win at Churchill Downs under her belt—she won the Debutante Stakes there this summer by 11 ¼ lengths. She came right back to finish second in the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) before proving she can handle two turns by scoring a clear-cut victory in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. That was her first start with Lasix and she was much the best; if she takes another step forward in the Juvenile Fillies, she can absolutely contend for victory.
Bellafina and Serengeti Empress have plenty of early speed, but only time will tell if they can keep up with the pace of Jaywalk, who won the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) in gate-to-wire fashion while recording fractions of :22.63, :45.65, and 1:09.71 over a very fast track. She beat a good field that day and has now won three straight races, making her the East Coast’s main contender for the Juvenile Fillies.
Sippican Harbor might get lost in the shuffle since she hasn’t raced since early September and has never run around two turns, but she did beat a deep field in the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I), rallying from last to win by two lengths over the likes of Restless Rider (see above), Reflect (see below), and the next-out stakes winner Chasing Yesterday.
Brucia La Terra
She might have benefited a bit from the quick early tempo in the Frizette Stakes, but Brucia La Terra was still strong in making a sharp late run from the back of the pack to get up and finish second. That effort was preceded by an easy maiden win at Saratoga, so this lightly-raced Barclay Tagg-trained filly appears to have a bright future.
She was no match for Bellafina in the Chandelier Stakes, but Vibrance did finish clearly second-best in a field that seemed pretty deep beforehand, and she did so after setting a solid early pace. She already has a pair of two-turn races under her belt, which is something her more heralded rivals can’t claim.
It’s unclear whether Mother Mother will target the Breeders’ Cup after missing the Chandelier due to an illness, but the Del Mar Debutante runner-up came back to work four furlongs in a quick :47.40 on October 8th and would be worth a long look if she does run in the Juvenile Fillies. After all, she’s bred to excel around two turns and has the Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in her corner.
Trained by Keith Desormeaux, Reflect showed sharp improvement while stretching out around two turns for the first time in the Alcibiades Stakes, rallying steadily from mid-pack to finish a clear-cut second behind Restless Rider. She’s kept good company throughout her career and could certainly hit the board again in the Juvenile Fillies, perhaps at a nice price.
After setting quick fractions of :22.86 and :46.52 in the Alcibiades Stakes, Meadow Dance held on to finish third, which was a notable step forward off her non-threatening third-place finish in the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes on Polytrack one start prior. Trained by Brad Cox, Meadow Dance seems clearly better on dirt and showed in her maiden win that she doesn’t need the lead, so her versatility in running style could come in handy for the Breeders’ Cup.