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Analyzing the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Classic

By Laura Pugh

This Friday kicks off the Breeders’ Cup weekend, once again held at Santa Anita Park. Friday is capped by a stellar field of eight fillies and mares for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), and Saturday will end with the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), which features a classic match-up of the young gun versus the star older male among the field of 10 set to head postward.

The Distaff features a meeting of the California titans, headlined by the unbeaten Fox Hill Farms homebred Songbird. The daughter of Medaglia D’Oro will likely be confronted early by Curalina (post position three) and I’m A Chatterbox (post position seven.) The latter dominated in her last start, the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (GI), winning by seven lengths.

Should Songbird be able to withstand the pressure from Curalina and I’m A Chatterbox, the question will then be will she have enough to withstand mid-race moves by Beholder and Stellar Wind, last year’s champion older mare and three-year-old filly? Both of these mares have produced much stronger finishes than anything Songbird has seen in her previous 12 starts.

In her previous starts, Songbird has always left the impression that there is plenty left in the tank, that there is another gear. In the Distaff, it is quite likely that we will see her finally use the gear that she has never needed.

While others the others in this group are highly regarded, chances are that the likes of Land Over Sea, Forever Unbridled and Corona Del Inca won’t be influential in the early stages of the race. All three are closers, and as such, will be the early trailers.

Unfortunately for them, many of the fillies that possess early or tactical speed are also good finishers, which will make it difficult for the closers to run them down. However, Corona Del Inca represents an unknown. She needed all of the 2000 meters of the Criadores Stakes (GI) to win, but she did finish in a quick time of 1:59 2/5. If she can transfer the form from that race to the Distaff, she could find herself rounding out the super, or even the trifecta.

Distaff Picks: 1.) Songbird 2.) Stellar Wind 3.) Beholder 4.) Corona Del Inca

Saturday’s Classic may not have the abundance of champions that the Distaff features, but it has drawn a deep and strong field nonetheless.

Several horses in here have demonstrated the ability to flash early speed. California Chrome has wired the fields in his last two races, the Pacific Classic (GI) and the Awesome Again Stakes (GI). Arrogate took his grade 1 debut, the Travers Stakes (GI), in wire-to-wire fashion, which is also the same way that Frosted won the Whitney Stakes (GI).

What makes this situation even more interesting is that none of those three actually needs the lead. Before the Travers Stakes (GI), one could argue Arrogate had to be on the lead. However, since that race the Baffert trainee has trained behind horses in his morning works and has looked quite relaxed. This begs the question, if all three have the early speed to make the lead, but don’t need the lead, who will get the lead?

With Frosted breaking from only one position removed from the rail, it is quite possible that he could be sent. While trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had expressed the desire to sit off the pace in an earlier interview, the son of Tapit could be forced to use some of his early speed to avoid getting stuck on the rail. California Chrome will also need to break sharp from post position number four, but unlike Frosted, he could have the option to relax and stalk the pace should Frosted be force to take the early lead.

With Arrogate breaking from post position 10, it is unlikely that Baffert will have the son of Unbridled’s Song gun for the lead, especially after teaching him to rate. One that could make a move for the early lead, and quite possibly even take it if no others are willing is Santa Anita Handicap (GI) and Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI) hero Melatonin.

With such a scuffle for positioning on the front end, and fast pace is still extremely plausible, even with the lack of true “need-the-lead” type runners. The strong pace will likely set things up for those who like to come off the pace, like Hoppertunity or Keen Ice. Hoppertunity has proven to be ultra-consistent throughout his career, while Keen Ice could be peaking at the right time coming into the Classic.

Classic Picks: 1.) California Chrome 2.) Arrogate 3.) Hoppertunity 4.) Keen Ice