Breeders’ Cup Race Previews and Picks
By Scott Shapiro
2015- Stopchargingmaria (KEE)
2014- Untapable (SA)
2013- Beholder (SA)
2012- Royal Delta (SA)
2011- Royal Delta (CD)
The Distaff is one of the most anticipated events in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup due to the presence of undefeated three-year-old filly Songbird and her older rivals Beholder and Stellar Wind.
Songbird has dominated her competition throughout her two-year-old and three-year-old campaigns, but now will take on older females for the first time in her career. The Fox Hill Farms’ filly is coming off three straight Grade 1 victories on the East Coast, including an eye-popping score in the Cotillion at Parx. She is listed as the 6-5-favorite on odds maker John White’s morning line.
Six-year-old champion mare Beholder and 2015 three-year-old champion filly Stellar Wind have “banged heads” three times since early June with Stellar Wind hitting the wire first in two of the three meetings. Most recently, the Hronis Racing runner wore down the Richard Mandella trainee by a neck in the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita Park. While they have faced off three times, they have never battled at the mile and an eighth distance and have been involved in different race shapes than they will encounter on Friday afternoon in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Outside of the top three options on the morning line, the rest of the field that includes Land Over Sea, Curalina, Corona Del Inca, Forever Unbridled and I’m A Chatterbox will have their work cut out for them in the Distaff. It will likely take a career best effort to get to the winners’ circle this weekend.
Beholder (#8): The daughter of Henny Hughes will race for the final time on Friday afternoon. What a career it has been! She is 17 for 25 lifetime, has earned over five million dollars and is 13 for 15 with two runner-up efforts over the Santa Anita Park main track. While she has finished second in her last three races, the performance ratings do not suggest that she has regressed. The Spendthrift Farm runner has done her best running when she has been able to stalk the early pace from the outside, yet in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch and the Grade 1 Zenyatta she found herself drawn to the inside and on the lead early. In Monday’s post-position draw, Beholder drew advantageously to the outside, which should allow Gary Stevens to track his rivals and get first run when they turn for him. She has been training forwardly for the Distaff and I think Hall of Fame conditioner Richard Mandella will have her ready for one final monster performance at her home track. She is my pick to pull off the minor upset.
Songbird (#1): The Medaglia d’Oro filly has done absolutely nothing wrong in her career. She enters the Distaff 11 for 11 and is 5 for 5 at Santa Anita Park. She drew the rail for Friday’s two million dollar event and will almost certainly be on the lead from the get-go. She will be very tough to pass, but I think she takes on a different class of animals in this spot and at 6-5 I do not think she is unbeatable. I will likely use her and Beholder to close out the Pick 4 sequence, but in the end prefer the value of her elder as well as the draw.
Curalina (#3): The four-year-old Curlin filly makes her first trek out west for trainer Todd Pletcher after a solid runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga in late August. She has shown an affinity for the nine-furlong distance and appears to be sitting on a career best effort. I do not think she is good enough to get to the wire first, but I think she could provide some value underneath in the exotics for the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
Stellar Wind (#5): The John Sadler filly just missed in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland, but has improved immensely in 2016. She has worn down Beholder under perfect rides from jockey Victor Espinoza in her last two starts, but I think the race shape and post-positions will make things more difficult for her on Friday afternoon. She is hard to knock, but with this field being deeper and her not drawn outside both of her main rivals, I think she is a bit vulnerable. She also could regress off a career best effort last time out in the Grade 1 Zenyatta.
Scott Shapiro is an active freelance analyst/writer of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. He has been going to the racetrack ever since he attended Garden State Park the year Spend A Buck skipped the Preakness Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby. His favorite horses of the past include A.P. Indy, Captain Bodgit, Victory Gallop, and Charismatic.
You can follow Scott on Twitter @ScottShap34.