This Friday is the first of two days of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita. The Breeders’ Cup features thirteen Grade I races spread over two days, testing the best of the best in each division.
Friday’s card features four Breeders’ Cup races, headlined by the Distaff, a nine-furlong dirt race for fillies and mares. The Distaff will be a clash of champions this year, with the undefeated SONGBIRD, multiple Eclipse award winner BEHOLDER, and last year’s champion three-year-old STELLAR WIND all face each other over their home track.
Leading into the Distaff will be three other championship races: the Juvenile Turf, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and the Dirt Mile. In the Juvenile Turf, Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) winner Wellabled will attempt to topple budding turf titans Oscar Performance, Good Samaritan, and Lancaster Bomber. In the Juvenile Fillies turf, top stateside hopes La Coronel and New Money Honey take on proven Europeans including Roly Poly, Spain Burg, and Cavale Doree. The Dirt Mile features the most consistent three-year-old male of the year, Gun Runner, squaring off against consistent older horse Dortmund and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Runhappy.
This piece will feature a full discussion of the day’s feature race, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. In addition, Nicolle Neulist’s selections for all other stakes on the card — both the Breeders’ Cup races and the other stakes — are presented below. For discussions of each of Friday’s Breeders’ Cup races, listen to the Friday episode of Horses for Courses, on which Nicolle is a guest. For their full analysis of the Marathon Stakes (GII), head over to ThoroFan.
A separate piece previews the Breeders’ Cup Mile and provide Saturday stakes selections at Santa Anita. In addition, Nicolle Neulist and Paul Mazur dissect the Breeders’ Cup Classic horse-by-horse in a video preview.
NBCSN will broadcast live from Santa Anita on Friday from 4:00pm-7:00pm CDT. This broadcast is also available online at horsestream.nbcsports.com. In addition, calracing.com provides a free live stream of all Breeders’ Cup races, just as they do every race run at Santa Anita. The Horse Races Now mobile app for Android and iPhone will stream the Breeders’ Cup for free. Horse Racing Radio Network will also stream audio coverage of Friday’s Breeders’ Cup action; their broadcast will run from 2:00pm-8:00pm CDT on their website.
Selections for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Twilight Derby are made for turf only.
Race 9: Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 4:35pm PDT
This race has three Santa Anita-based champions: STELLAR WIND, BEHOLDER, and SONGBIRD. The biggest surprise in the Distaff would be if a horse other than these three wins.
STELLAR WIND and BEHOLDER have been clashing all summer on the California circuit, and outclassing the rest of the west-coast dirt distaff division. STELLAR WIND has won the last two rounds of their rivalry, and gets the slight edge here. She comes in second off a layoff, giving her a chance to take a step forward from her last outing. That last outing was no slouch: a game neck victory over BEHOLDER in the Zenyatta (GI). STELLAR WIND will go an extra half-furlong here, but that distance will be no problem for this daughter of Curlin. In her last nine-furlong try, she finished a strong second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. STELLAR WIND loves Santa Anita, with five wins and a second over the course. She also has excellent versatility. Though her last few starts have all had her close to the lead in a short field, she has the versatility to take back a bit and rally should I’M A CHATTERBOX, BEHOLDER, or even CURALINA make SONGBIRD really fly early. All told, STELLAR WIND looks the right horse in the right form to do her Distaff performance last year one better.
That said, it would not be a huge surprise to see BEHOLDER turn the tables on her younger foe. She drew the outside post, which gives Gary Stevens room to carve out a trip on her. Even more importantly, BEHOLDER will not likely set the early fractions here. She was forced to do so in the Clement Hirsch (GI) and the Zenyatta; both times, STELLAR WIND ran her down. BEHOLDER is a bit better if she can stalk or press, and that trip should unfold for her here. The distance should suit, as should her home track.
Then, we get to the ultimate defensive use: SONGBIRD. This space is willing to outright toss most three-year-old fillies facing older for the first time in the Distaff, particularly at such a short price. However, SONGBIRD has dispensed with her age group easily enough to suggest that she has not yet had to show her best. Her inside draw means she will likely be on the front end early. If the race becomes an early game of chicken, it may well be over in SONGBIRD’s favour in the first few furlongs. But, others have shown some pace: I’M A CHATTERBOX stands to be forward, BEHOLDER will not be far off the front, and CURALINA has shown some early zip. Even so, SONGBIRD has shown the ability to rebuff a foe before, as she did when Carina Mia tried to challenge her in the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI). But, Carina Mia was a three-year-old best suited for sprint distances. Here SONGBIRD faces older mares proven at nine panels. Her affinity for the course and even the distance are not questions here, but whether she can take it to the likes of STELLAR WIND or BEHOLDER remains the question.
#5 STELLAR WIND (5/2)
#8 BEHOLDER (5/2)
#1 SONGBIRD (6/5)
Longshot: Stop me if you’ve heard the story about the Dallas Stewart Longshot™ flying in from off the pace…yes, we know it has become a trope, but there’s a reason. #6 FOREVER UNBRIDLED (12/1) does get a class test here, as she has been running against softer foes all year than she faces here. But, if the pace gets a little too hot up front, her late pace suggests that she will be rallying better than anyone. And, FOREVER UNBRIDLED reliably fires: whether the pace in front of her is slow or hot, she dependably makes herself known in the final stages. FOREVER UNBRIDLED also has a strong record at a mile and an eighth. Though she was off the board in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) last year, her next three starts at the distance have yielded a GIII win, a GI win, and a GI placing in which she was beaten less than a length. Stepping up to beat the Distaff field will be a tall order, but if the pace gets hot (and the early races do not suggest a speed bias), FOREVER UNBRIDLED has the speed and consistency to swoop in late at a price.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist’s picks for Friday’s stakes races at Santa Anita, including the Breeders’ Cup as well as the undercard stakes. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!