Breeders’ Cup Distaff

Santa Anita Park 11/4/16
1 & 1/8 Miles on Dirt, $2,000,000
Post Time: 4:35 PM PST
Breeders’ Cup Distaff

Analysis by Michael Patricks

The biggest weekend in horse racing is finally upon us with the thirty-third edition of the Breeders’ Cup set to take place on Friday, November 4th and Saturday, November 5th.  Four races will be run on Friday and another nine are to be set down for decision on Saturday.  In this installment, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff will be previewed, headlined by the undefeated, Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Songbird, who is the 6/5 morning line favorite to prevail against the most difficult cast she’s ever faced in her twelfth lifetime race. Will Songbird continue to carry her sweet tune, or will a competitor upset the undefeated 2 year-old champion of 2015?  Let’s dive right in.

1-Songbird 6/5 ML-Fittingly, the analysis starts with this incredible filly. Undefeated and largely untested in her 11 lifetime starts, Songbird will enter the starting gate in search of a perfect 3-year-old season and attempt to make a closing summation on 2016 Horse of the Year honors. If she’s to get the job done on Friday, she’s going to have to run faster than she ever has before. Jerry Hollendorfer has carefully concocted a brilliant plan to keep her on the upswing, and to this point has kept her away from older horses. In the Distaff, she will meet six older horses including the matriarch of the race, Beholder, who will no doubt be well-supported at the windows in her own right. Songbird is undefeated in five starts at Santa Anita, and she prefers to do her running near the early lead. Curalina, Stellar Wind, I’m a Chatterbox and Beholder all figure to be close up and prominent early. Her hand is somewhat forced by the inside draw to get into the race early, and expect Gary Stevens to have Beholder right off her flank up the Santa Anita backstretch, keeping her honest at every step. On paper, it appears Songbird is going to take plenty of heat on the front end and that she may be a bit softened up for the final quarter mile if runners of Beholder’s quality and staying power are nipping at her heels. Truth be told, Songbird may actually be all the hype and then some, and we may not have seen her best work unfold on the racetrack-a scary thought to her foes and those betting against her. However, no streak lasts forever and Beholder certainly knows about that. While it’s possible her best is yet to come, I’m going to try and beat her on Friday at such a short price with the obstacles I’ve laid out in front of her; nothing but respect in this corner, but I’m shopping elsewhere.

2-Land Over Sea 30/1ML– Well, it isn’t every day you see a Doug O’Neill entrant posted at 30/1 on the morning line at Santa Anita. Land Over Sea is 0 for 6 against Songbird and now must look to tackle her once again, while taking on the likes of Stellar Wind and Beholder in the process of doing so. The closest this one has come to Songbird was just under four lengths back in March, when Songbird did give her a 46 second half mile to chase, thus livening up her stretch punch. Land Over Sea did finish second in the Kentucky Oaks, but since that race could really only be described as having gone off form at best. She staggers into this contest after getting coldcocked in the Belmont Oaks back in July and then dawdled home in the stretch at Parx last time, pasted by 15 plus lengths to Songbird and company. Her only chance is that the other jockeys in this race ride this race like they’re going 4 ½ furlongs at Los Alamitos, ganging up on Songbird and creating an unreasonable pace where everyone is softened up and then in that limited circumstance, she could possibly arrive late on the scene and clean up on these when they were left defenseless from a blistering pace. Short of all the riders losing their heads in this spot, she’s relatively defenseless herself, however. Her jockey, Mario Gutierrez, should have a pretty good view of the race as he trails this field for the majority of this contest. This morning line should most likely double and even at that price I’m not tempted; pass.

3-Curalina 12/1 ML- Four year-old daughter of Curlin decides to try the Distaff instead of the Filly and Mare Sprint and a lot of that according to trainer Todd Pletcher has to do with just how well she is coming into this race. Curalina ran a respectable third in the Distaff last year, finishing better than three lengths behind co-second choice Stellar Wind.  Curalina is flying in a bit below the radar at her 12/1 morning line price and was 10/1 in the market for this race a year ago. Her rider, John Velazquez knows her very well and she has been freshened up nicely for her return to the races on Friday.  Some would ask if her layoff is an issue. Glancing into her past performances, you quickly glean that this filly is an undefeated 4-for-4 when she comes off the shelf, including two Grade I victories along with a Grade III. Style wise, she likes to be up close to the competition and then press by from the 3/8ths pole home. The early pace figures to be fairly lively and her stalking style on the east coast will likely see her a bit further back than usual on the west coast strip, so it’s fair to picture her about 5 lengths of the leaders up the backstretch while saving ground. Her Beyer Speed Figures certainly class up with the rest of the field and going back to the Acorn, she has shown that she can pass horses and rally when asked to do so. Like that she’s drawn to the inside to find cover and save ground– I’ll be backing her to do some damage in this race on Friday by playing her across the board, noting that a win bet on her will be a saver on my exactas and trifectas.

4-Corona Del Inca 30-1 ML- Stranger danger shows up on Friday looking to equal the surprise of the miracle on ice, the Buster Douglas defeat of Mike Tyson, or the 133/1 victory of Arcangues in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic. It’s true that this mare did get her nose down at 11/1 in a Grade I back home in Argentina last spring, but she has not run since then and is being asked to tackle the best fillies and mares in the country and to take many of them down in their own backyard at Santa Anita in the process. Saying she has a tall order in front of her would be putting it quite mildly. At least her rider travels stateside to join her Friday and horses are herd animals that do tend to run together quite a bit, but beyond that it’s hard to find positive angles in this one’s camp. It’s fair to note that she does pick up Lasix for this ambitious spot on Friday and has worked well over the track, but in this specific circumstance I’m going to have to make her prove she can beat me; passing on her.

5-Stellar Wind 5/2 ML- Benefactor of ideal stalking trips in each of her last two where she sat just off Beholder and was able to press by that one at the perfect moment in time. This filly is going as well now as she ever has before and loves Santa Anita. Jockey Victor Espinoza has had a banner couple of years so this could be the proverbial double icing on the cake with California Chrome undoubtedly set to go favored in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday. Stellar Wind was beaten merely a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at 7/1 last year and is out to atone for that narrow defeat on Friday but this field is much deeper than the one she faced last year. Also, she’s been accustomed to ideal trips in small fields while perfectly drawn to do her damage this year. She may have to create a bit more of her own luck in the form of a tracking trip on Friday given that Songbird and Beholder figure to be prominent early and I’m a Chatterbox figures to be close in tow as well. As tempting as she would be to wager on at 3/1 or 7/2 on Friday, just get the feeling that she could get caught up in the crossfire, leaving her a bit susceptible to the closers in this field. It will be incumbent on Espinoza to time his ride just right which is entirely possible, yet it is also a proposition I will be wagering against; others appeal more at better prices.

6-Forever Unbridled 12/1 ML- Well-traveled filly who always seems to fly under the radar shows up at 12/1 on the morning line while coming off a Grade I victory last time in the Beldame at Belmont. Make no mistake, this filly is a grinder and she’s entirely pace dependent on others carving out solid splits where her finishing kick has that much more punch to it. Given her east coast running lines and style, it’s reasonable to expect her to be a bit further off the pace than normal, much like her familiar foe Curalina. Falling far off the pace at Santa Anita is always worrisome, yet in this spot Friday and given the 1 1/8 mile distance with the amount of speed that is signed on, that may not be such a bad thing. On paper, it appears this pace will be quite lively and I’m not getting the impression they will be doing Songbird any favors on the front end. If Stevens is intent on pinning Songbird down with Beholder, it’s reasonable to expect the rest of these to just amble off that quick tempo and try and time their runs. ‘Unbridled hasn’t run a bad one in quite some time and if the tempo is as lively as I anticipate it being, positive results will be in her forecast; she’s a must use in your vertical wagers and I’ll be factoring her in underneath.

7-I’m a Chatterbox 12/1 ML- Always respected this filly. She arrives here Friday coming off back to back triple digit Beyer Speed Figures for the first time in her career. Her forward running style typically keeps her out of trouble and she’s the type of runner that if you don’t account for her in your handicapping, she can make you pay dearly. The problem with her in this spot is that she is likely to get caught in the fire created by Songbird and Beholder on the front end early, and could be slugging it out with Stellar Wind on her home track in an effort to get the perfect tracking spot in behind those pace setters. She doesn’t appear to have the best natural speed in this field and also doesn’t seem to have the best turn of foot, should she sit off the pace. In ‘Chatterbox’s past, she’s had problems when they’ve tried to drop anchor and this little filly has found it difficult getting out when she’s been stuck in traffic. Based on the big performance last time, she’s going to be put in this race early and that quite honestly is the wrong approach to prosperity on Friday. ‘Chatterbox deserves a chance to strut her stuff in the Distaff, of that there’s no doubt. At the end of the day though, it’s difficult to envision her being anything better than a pace casualty given the exclusive competition in her sightlines; I’m against her here.

8-Beholder 5/2 ML- Undoubtedly, her rider Gary Stevens had to be grinning ear-to-ear when he saw that the champion mare drew the outside slot in the Distaff for the final chapter of her illustrious career. Queen of the mountain in 2015, 2016 has not been as kind to Beholder, coming into this race off three straight second-place finishes. As mentioned, Stellar Wind had perfect stalking trips and the in-form 4-year-old, grinded down the embattled 6-year-old, prevailing with narrow scores both times. Beholder was valiant in both those efforts and certainly there was no shame in losing to California Chrome by five lengths in the Pacific Classic, unable to match strides with the best horse in the world while taking on the boys. Beholder has won 13 out of 15 at Santa Anita and was arguably just as gallant in her two defeats to Stellar Wind as she was in any of her victories during her illustrious career. Can she take enough wind out of Songbird’s sails on Friday and have enough to hold off the stretch runners behind her? That will be a tricky balance for Gary Stevens, but it’s a cerebral challenge that the Hall-of-Famer is no doubt ready for. Call it sentimental, but I do believe the crowd will be “beholding her” as she struts off into retirement as the winner of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, after surviving a desperate finish with Curalina and Forever Unbridled coming home hard in the lane.

Consensus: 8-3-6-1

Other Selections for Friday:

  • Race 6 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf – #5 Made You Look 12/1
  • Race 7 Breeders’ Cup Mile – #1 Vyjack 10/1
  • Race 8 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf – #8 Cavale Doree (Fr) 15/1