The retirement of Unique Bella
was certainly a blow, as was the injury that knocked the promising three-year-old Red Ruby
out of Distaff contention. But since then, a few other promising runners have emerged on the scene, so with just over two months remaining until the race, here’s how I rank the top Distaff contenders….
You can argue that she received a more favorable trip than Elate in the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I)
at Saratoga, but the fact remains that Abel Tasman has beaten Elate in all three of their meetings and has proven herself to be a tough-as-nails competitor with a “refuse to lose” attitude. With the Breeders’ Cup Distaff heading to Churchill Downs
, where Abel Tasman won the 2017 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), this six-time Grade 1 winner has to be considered the early favorite to win.
She really lost nothing but the winner’s share of the purse when coming up a neck short against Abel Tasman in the Personal Ensign Stakes. That effort followed a solid comeback victory in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) going ten furlongs, and if Elate runs in the Distaff, she could have every chance to turn the tables on Abel Tasman. The question is, will she run? The latest news is that the Breeders’ Cup Classic
against males is also under consideration for this talented four-year-old.
The 2018 Kentucky Oaks winner is taking things easy while gearing up for a start in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) next month at Parx, which will serve as her final prep race for the Distaff. She’s proven herself to be clearly best among the three-year-old fillies, but can she hold her own against Abel Tasman and Elate? In terms of Beyer speed figures, she still needs to step up a notch, though such a move is certainly within the realm of possibility.
A two-time graded stakes winner at Churchill Downs, Blue Prize hasn’t run since winning the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) over the Louisville oval in June, but she’s been training steadily at Keeneland (most recently going six furlongs in 1:14.80 on August 24th) and should be back to the races this fall. She’s flying under the radar, but her affinity for Churchill Downs could be beneficial in November.
Sure, Marley’s Freedom has never run farther than seven furlongs, but the daughter of Blame is bred to stretch out, and the way she won the Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) on Saturday at Saratoga
—unleashing a strong, sustained rally during a quick internal half-mile fraction—suggests that she can be successful going longer. Trainer Bob Baffert is pondering the possibility of trying her in longer race, and if Marley’s Freedom does take that route, I think she could emerge on the scene as a legitimate Breeders’ Cup Distaff contender. And if not, there’s always the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Wonder Gadot never really challenged when finishing last in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) going 1 ¼ miles against colts, but I don’t think that defeat should be held against her. Remember, she came within a half-length of beating Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks, and a return to that form would make Wonder Gadot an intriguing contender in the Distaff.
This Chilean-bred superstar went 8-for-8 in her home country before traveling to the U.S. for her four-year-old campaign. In her two starts this year for new trainer Chad Brown, Wow Cat has shown flashes of solid form, finishing second by a neck in the Shuvee Stakes (gr. III) before coming home a distant third behind Abel Tasman and Elate in the Personal Ensign. With those two leading the pack among older mares right now, Wow Cat’s third-place finish wasn’t half bad.
After competing well against the likes of Monomoy Girl and Wonder Gadot earlier this year, Eskimo Kisses found the 1 ¼-mile distance and fast pace of the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) to be a perfect combination, rallying from last place to win going away by 6 ½ lengths. Granted, that was a perfect setup, but it’s possible that Eskimo Kisses is getting good at the right time and could become a greater threat down the road.
Talk Veuve to Me
She got burned up setting a very fast pace in the Alabama Stakes, but nevertheless held on gamely to finish fourth, beaten just a half-length for second place. The daughter of Violence had previously won the Indiana Oaks (gr. III) in effortless fashion and might rebound with a better setup in her next start.
The champion Unique Bella might be retired, but we still have La Force, who unleashed late rallies to finish surprisingly close to Unique Bella in both the Beholder Mile (gr. I) and the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I) this summer. She has yet to win a stakes race (and has won just two of her 21 starts), but she is getting better this season and that’s always a good sign.