The Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
1 1/8 miles, dirt, females, 3-year-olds and up
Santa Anita, Race 10 | Saturday, Nov. 2, 4:00 p.m. PT
Two champions could potentially be crowned in this Breeders’ Cup Distaff. While heavy favorite Midnight Bisou has almost assuredly sewn up divisional honors, she could throw her hat into the ring for a Horse of the Year title with a decisive victory here. Furthermore, given the muddled state of the 3-year-old division, a strong effort by one of the fillies in that age category could put them in position to earn an Eclipse Award. So, while the Distaff might not be this year’s most captivating Breeders’ Cup event from a wagering standpoint, it should provide plenty of drama.
The Pace Projector is predicting a scenario in which the speedy Serengeti Empress (#9) spurts away to a clear lead in the opening furlongs, while also indicating that it’s unlikely she’ll have to set a fast pace in doing so. There are additional runners who would prefer to be forwardly placed, such as Paradise Woods (#1), Secret Spice (#7), and Mo See Cal (#10), but none of them possess the sprint speed of Serengeti Empress. Regardless of how the pace develops, it’s doubtful that Midnight Bisou (#4) will be compromised. She possesses an incredibly versatile running style, which allows her to adapt to almost any pace scenario. Mike Smith just has to avoid getting caught in traffic, since there are a number of fillies in this race – six of the 11 according to TimeformUS running styles – who would prefer to take up a position somewhere in midpack.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, PARADISE WOODS (5-1): When she’s at her best, Paradise Woods is one of the few runners in this field who has posted the kind of speed figures that could challenge Midnight Bisou. She finally seemed to have recaptured her brilliant 3-year-old form in that dazzling 10-length score in the Santa Margarita back in April, earning a flashy 124 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Yet that renaissance proved to be fleeting, as she lost her next two starts at short prices while regressing significantly. I believe you can blame those performances on her trips. Mike Smith gels with some horses and just doesn’t serve others well. The start is critical for Paradise Woods, as she requires some aggression out of the gate, and Smith tends to be quite passive in those situations. Abel Cedillo took over the reins last time and made all the difference. He hustled her out of the gate into a stalking position and she did the rest. While this nine-furlong distance caused her problems as a younger horse, stamina seems to be one of her assets these days, so I’m not at all concerned about the slight stretch-out. I’m far more uneasy about the rail draw, since those pesky gate issues crop up intermittently. If she breaks slowly against this field, her race is over. That said, she appears to be training as well as ever, she loves Santa Anita, and she’s shown on more than one occasion that she possesses the brilliance to win a race like this. Don’t underestimate.
#2, OLLIE’S CANDY (15-1): She’s done little wrong on dirt, having collected a pair of graded stakes wins in just three starts over this surface. However, she wasn’t facing the strongest field in the Hirsch and her victory that day was primarily a product of Secret Spice’s tendency to hang late in her races. Ollie’s Candy probably didn’t appreciate having to rally from so far back in the Zenyatta last time, but she also didn’t seem as comfortable at any point in that race while never a threat to Paradise Woods. Others appear stronger.
#3, STREET BAND (10-1): Sophie Doyle made all the right moves en route to that Cotillion score. She came out of the gate with a plan to rate Street Band, didn’t panic once she found herself last into the clubhouse turn, and launched an early move which allowed them to avoid any potential traffic issues. That 125 TimeformUS Speed Figure that she earned for the victory is actually the highest last-out figure in this field, so a repeat of that performance would make her a serious win candidate. However, each race presents a different set of circumstances and there’s no guarantee that Street Band can work out the same perfect trip in this Breeders’ Cup Distaff that she did at Parx.
What Street Band does have going for her is momentum, since she seems to be improving with every start through the second half of the season. She’s done her best work at 1 1/16 miles, but an extra half-furlong shouldn’t pose a problem. She’s not the kind of filly that has to carry her racetrack around with her, and she possesses a versatile running style that should allow her to adapt to a moderate early tempo. I’m not quite convinced that she can pull off a victory of this magnitude, but the possibility of another generous price tempts me to keep the faith while finding out. Contender.
#4, MIDNIGHT BISOU (6-5): There’s not much to say that isn’t apparent from a glance at her past performances. She just wins. Regardless of competition, location, track configuration, and pace – Midnight Bisou delivers. She’s rarely going to win by a large margin, but she clearly knows where the wire is. There once were concerns about her delivering top efforts going this 1 1/8 miles distance, but she put those worries to rest by running down Breeders’ Cup Classic contender Elate in that stirring Personal Ensign showdown at Saratoga this summer. That was arguably her finest moment, perhaps only matched by her Ogden Phipps score over the brilliant Come Dancing, in which she recorded a career-best 127 TimeformUS Speed Figure. If she wins this Distaff, she’ll have completed an 8-for-8 season, a feat that would potentially be worthy of Horse of the Year honors, depending on what occurs in the surrounding races on Saturday.
However, victory is never a foregone conclusion in this game, and Midnight Bisou doesn’t have as much margin for error as her odds might indicate. I don’t want to get carried away – she’s undoubtedly the most likely winner. Yet there is at least one older horse in this line-up who is capable of running fast enough to beat her, as well as several 3-year-old fillies who seem to be peaking in the second half of the season. I’m hardly suggesting that anyone should take a strong stance against her, but I also wouldn’t recommend leaning too heavily on any potential odds-on favorite in a race that features as much talent as this one. The likely champ is the horse to beat.
#5, DUNBAR ROAD (6-1): As the most lightly raced member of this field, she comes into this Distaff with much to prove, but also with a ton of upside potential. Chad Brown has handled her as an exceptional talent all along, entering her in the Kentucky Oaks after just two starts, only to fail to drawn in off the also-eligible list. She returned this summer to reel off three decisive victories, topped by a comprehensive triumph in the Alabama over Street Band over a sloppy Saratoga surface. She was hardly disgraced in her first test against older rivals in the Spinster last time, finishing third to a pair of seasoned older mares. However, you can make the argument that her performance is even better than that result suggests.
Throughout the Keeneland fall meeting, the rail was not the place to be on the dirt surface, and that certainly seemed to be the case on the weekend that Dunbar Road competed. Javier Castellano got locked into a rail trip soon after the start and was forced to rally up the inside while racing in tight quarters in the lane. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that Dunbar Road could have won that Spinster with Blue Prize’s trip. Given that hypothetical, she’d then be coming into this race as the obvious main rival to Midnight Bisou. Dunbar Road must improve further to dethrone the favorite, but she seems far more likely to attain that progression than many others in this field. At around her morning line odds, she would offer the sort of value that I wouldn’t be able to pass up. The selection.
#6, WOW CAT (15-1): Somewhat lost in the aftermath of Monomoy Girl’s popular triumph in this race last year was the stellar performance put forth by this mare. Rated far off the early pace, Wow Cat overcame trouble on the far turn to put in an explosive stretch rally that might have carried her to victory if not for her trip. That effort coupled with her Grade 1 score in the Beldame suggested that she might be on the precipice of a highly successful 2019 season. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way, as she’s failed to attain that level in three starts since making a belated return to the races. Based on her current form, it’s hard to envision her playing a significant role in this year’s race. Pass.
#7, SECRET SPICE (10-1): This filly appeared as if she might finally be putting it all together after claiming victory in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile back in March. She took down two legitimate foes in Marley’s Freedom and Paradise Woods, though it would be fair to say that neither one was at her best on that occasion. Secret Spice continued her improvement into the La Troienne at Churchill Downs, earning a career-best 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Yet she was run down by She’s a Julie in the closing strides – something that would become a pattern over her next few starts. This is a game of inches, and it just appears that the 1 1/16-mile distance exposes her stamina to the point that she becomes vulnerable to a late challenge in the last furlong. Therefore, it seems unlikely that she’ll be able to produce a top effort going this nine-furlong trip, especially after having to chase the fleet Serengeti Empress early. A minor award seems like her ceiling.
#8, LA FORCE (30-1): Her only taste of victory in the midst of an extended drought came when she blitzed the field in the Santa Maria, upsetting the 1-5 favorite Paradise Woods, who was undone by a passive ride. Yet even on that occasion she didn’t earn a speed figure that would make her competitive here, and her form has gone south since then. Pass.
#9, SERENGETI EMPRESS (12-1): This filly is among the best of her generation when she’s able to attain the early lead, but not nearly as effective when failing to pull that preferred trip. Therefore, we can immediately dismiss her poor effort last time in the Cotillion, in which she was outrun to the front in a race loaded with front-running types. Barring a poor start, she will be on the lead in this race, and that should give her the opportunity to return to the form that we saw over the summer.
Despite having won the prestigious Kentucky Oaks, Serengeti Empress has managed to fly under the radar through the second half of the season. She’s posted some massive speed figures since that Oaks score, but she’s done so in defeat, earning a 120 when chasing home the brilliant Guarana in the Acorn before getting assigned a 128 for her epic duel with Covfefe in the Test. Both of those races were contested around one turn and the argument that this filly is best over that configuration has some merit. Yet it’s also fair to say that she has improved since early in the year, and if she’s able to replicate either of those summer performances, she’s going to be a major factor in this race. I don’t completely trust her to show up, but I also know that I can’t leave her out of the mix. A gate-to-wire threat.
#10, MO SEE CAL (30-1): This optional-claiming type has early speed that could factor into the outcome, but she has never earned a speed figure that makes her particularly competitive. Pass.
#11, BLUE PRIZE (6-1): You have to admire this mare’s consistency. She’s never going to be in the mix for a championship, but she’s been lurking right below that level for the past two seasons. She raced into top form during the second half of the season last year, and her connections mapped out a similar plan in 2019. After dropping decisions to some of this division’s heavyweights early in the year, she came alive in her last two starts, gutting out the victory at Saratoga before toppling Elate and Dunbar Road in the Spinster. She may have benefited from a favorable track profile as she made an outside run that day, but she nevertheless put forth a career-best effort, earning a 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure that puts her right in the mix. She finished a close fourth in this race last year, so it stands to reason that she can compete here again. Yet, with all due respect to Monomoy Girl, the major contenders in this year’s Distaff enter the race with slightly stronger credentials from top to bottom, making it a marginally tougher spot than the 2018 edition of this race. Another minor award seems viable.