Distaff division update: Midnight Bisou, Point of Honor impress

July 23rd, 2019

One week after Elate threw down a challenge to her fellow Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) contenders with a sensational victory in the Delaware Handicap (G2), a handful of talented fillies and mares responded with eye-catching performances of their own.

The Breeders’ Cup Distaff is shaping up to be among the most exciting and competitive races at the Breeders’ Cup in November at Santa Anita. The division remains wide open, because there is an abundance of quality contenders
The first contender to offer a response to Elate’s Delaware Handicap was the four-time grade 1 winner Midnight Bisou, who defeated Elate twice, in the Azeri Stakes (G2) and Apple Blossom Handicap (G2), at Oaklawn Park during the winter. On Saturday the classy daughter of Midnight Lute parlayed a ground-saving trip into a cozy, one-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Molly Pitcher Stakes (G2) at Monmouth Park.

It wasn’t Midnight Bisou’s most dominant victory, but the race served as a steppingstone toward another match with Elate in the Aug. 24 Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, so it’s unlikely Midnight Bisou was fully cranked for a top performance. A slow early/fast late race shape also meant Midnight Bisou had to sprint the final five-sixteenths of a mile in less than :30, a strong fraction no matter how you slice it. Such a race shape makes it difficult for any runner to draw away and win impressively, and considering how hot and humid it was at Monmouth on Saturday, it was nice to see Midnight Bisou escape with a relatively easy race.
With five graded stakes victories under her belt in 2019 alone, including two grade 1 triumphs, Midnight Bisou is a clear-cut frontrunner to be voted champion older dirt female. But championship credentials only go so far, and despite her strong résumé, many racing fans seem convinced Elate will turn the tables on Midnight Bisou through the summer and fall.

One reason might be because Midnight Bisou is 9-for-9 going 1 1/16 miles and 0-for-4 running farther, which includes three defeats over the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. But I’m skeptical whether a sixteenth of a mile really makes that much of a difference to Midnight Bisou. She’s finished strongly in many of her victories, and all of her defeats running long were top-three efforts in grade 1 races.

Midnight Bisou was hardly disgraced when she rallied to finish third by 1 1/2 lengths in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, so I think it might be shortsighted to assume Elate will inevitably conquer Midnight Bisou later this year. Their rematch in the Personal Ensign will be among the highlights of the summer racing season.

Speaking of the Personal Ensign, Sunday’s Shuvee Stakes (G3) at Saratoga figures to produce a contender or two to challenge Elate and Midnight Bisou. The outcome was surprising at first glance, because Golden Award upset grade 1 winners Wow Cat and She’s a Julie to secure her first graded stakes victory.

But an analysis of the Shuvee pace fractions is revealing. Golden Award, while casually vying for the lead with She’s a Julie, managed to set slow opening fractions of :25.24 and :50.24, which allowed her to accelerate the next two quarter-mile fractions in :23.64 and :23.34. This :46.98 second half-mile made it difficult for the late-rallying Wow Cat to gain any ground, and when Golden Award sprinted the final furlong in :12.42, the race was over.

Under the circumstances I thought Wow Cat ran well in defeat. She was making her first start since a runner-up effort in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and the Chad Brown-trained mare made a middle move to reach contention, then flattened out in the final furlong to finish second by 2 1/4 lengths. Considering the challenging pace scenario she faced in her first start off the layoff, I expect we’ll see improvement from Wow Cat next time out.
A similar scenario unfolded in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) for 3-year-old fillies. Guarana, winner of the Acorn Stakes (G1), was able to secure an easy lead through slow fractions, which allowed her to sprint home the final three furlongs in :36.07 to win by a length. In contrast, the runner-up Point of Honor ran a huge race to finish second after trailing the field through the first six furlongs.
As a daughter of Curlin out of a Bernardini mare, Point of Honor is bred to improve with maturity, and her performance in the Coaching Club American Oaks seemed like a nice step forward off her victory against easier competition in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) two months ago. Given a little more pace to work with, I fully expect Point of Honor to win the 1 1/4-mile Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga next month, which would complete her transformation into a division leader and a major player for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Still waiting in the wings for a late-season title defense is Monomoy Girl, who conquered Wow Cat and Midnight Bisou in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She hasn’t run this year because of a colic episode in the spring, but she recently returned to the barn of trainer Brad Cox and could give Elate, Midnight Bisou and Point of Honor a run for their money if she picks up where she left off last season.
Which fillies and mares do you view as the top contenders for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff?