LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Past editions of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff forged memories to be savored like fine wine. There was Personal Ensign nosing out Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors to finish her career unbeaten, with Kentucky Oaks winner Goodbye Halo chasing them home. The “Iron Lady” Lady’s Secret rolling wire to wire to cap her Horse of the Year campaign, a distinction Azeri would secure years later with a victory in the same race. Zenyatta completing a perfect season, with the best yet to come. Champion Beholder going out in glory, handing champion Songbird her first defeat by the barest of noses.
Even stacked against that history, the 35th running of the $2 million Distaff looks like a vintage renewal, and whomever wishes to uncork the champagne on Saturday at Churchill Downs must bring a memorable performance. The field of 11 is led by six Grade 1 winners, including Kentucky Oaks winners Monomoy Girl and Abel Tasman, who already is a champion.
“It’s a very, very solid group of fillies,” Brad Cox, who trains Momomoy Girl, said. “We’ve got to show up and run as well as we’ve ever run, or even better, to get the job done.”
Abel Tasman, second in last year’s Distaff to Forever Unbridled, finished fourth in the La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs in her season debut, then bounced back to win the Ogden Phipps Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths. In August at Saratoga, she battled to a neck victory in the Personal Ensign. Back in California this fall, she finished a shocking fifth as the favorite in the Zenyatta Stakes on Sept. 30. The race was won by her Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Vale Dori, a multiple Grade 1/Group 1 winner who was recording her first win since May 2017. It was later theorized that Abel Tasman may have been fighting off a virus that had gone around Baffert’s barn. She and Vale Dori have worked well together in preparation for their Distaff rematch.
“She’s doing well,” Baffert said. “Her last race was just a head-scratcher, but, you know what, mares will do that. They’re known to throw a bad one, and she was just flat that day. I don’t think you’ll see her run a race like that.”
Abel Tasman drew post 2 – “I don’t mind,” Baffert said – and will have regular rider Mike Smith in the irons.
Monomoy Girl, the morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race, drew the outside post – as she did in the Kentucky Oaks. Monomoy Girl reeled off Grade 1 victories in the Ashland Stakes, Oaks, Acorn Stakes, and Coaching Club American Oaks over the spring and summer. She survived an objection to win the Oaks, briefly making contact with runner-up Wonder Gadot in the lane. The tendency to lose focus when making the lead caught up to her in the Cotillion Stakes, as she crossed the line a neck ahead of Midnight Bisou but was disqualified to second for interference.
“She got a little lonely on the lead, and started drifting in and drifting out,” regular rider Florent Geroux said. “I don’t think she knows any different – she still thinks she won. I’d rather get beat by DQ and still have “won” the race than get beat five lengths and think, all right, now we go to the Breeders’ Cup, and it doesn’t feel like we have the best horse.”
Monomoy Girl, Midnight Bisou, and Wonder Gadot, facing their elders for the first time, are based at Churchill Downs.
“It means a lot,” Cox said. “It’s one less hurdle we have to jump, with her walking out of her own stall Breeders’ Cup Day.”
Santa Anita Oaks winner Midnight Bisou was third with a troubled trip in the Kentucky Oaks. Transferred to Steve Asmussen after that race in order to target an East Coast campaign, she won the Mother Goose Stakes, finished second in the Coaching Club and third in the Alabama Stakes, then dueled with Monomoy Girl again in the Cotillion.
“She’s battle-tested and had some tough races along the way,” co-owner Jeff Bloom said. “It’s late in the year and she’s a very mature horse, physically and mentally, and I think she’s ready for that challenge.”
Wonder Gadot won the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales, by a combined 10 1/2 lengths before finishing 10th in the Travers Stakes. She was a distant third in the Cotillion.
The other older runners in the field include Blue Prize, a Group 1 winner in Argentina who scored her first Grade 1 win in the U.S. when she took the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland despite veering out in the stretch. Blue Prize has won three graded stakes at Churchill Downs in the last calendar year, and has never been worse than second at this track.
Wow Cat won all eight starts in her native Chile, including a sweep of the Chilean Triple Crown. After finishing second and third in a pair of graded stakes at Saratoga, she broke through to win the Beldame Stakes last out.
La Force finished second to now-retired champion Unique Bella in the Beholder Mile and Clement L. Hirsch before finishing second to Vale Dori in the Zenyatta. Grade 3 winner Champagne Problems, second in the Spinister; Grade 3 winner Verve’s Tale, third in the Beldame; and Grade 2 winner Mopotism complete the field.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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