International Flavor Abounds in Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf
By Jordan Sigmon
Since its inception in 1999, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (GIT) has featured some of the top mares from across the globe and this year top turf distaffers from North America, South America, Japan and Europe are expected to line up for their chance in the spotlight.
The headliner from this year’s American-based contenders is the “Miracle Filly,” champion Lady Eli, who survived laminitis and came back to take the “Win and You’re In” Flower Bowl Stakes (GIT) at Belmont Park in early October. Undefeated through her first six starts, Lady Eli stepped on a nail returning from the test barn after her Belmont Oaks (GIT) win last July and began the fight for her life. Over a year later, Lady Eli made her return to the racetrack running a valiant second in the Ballston Spa (GIIT) on the Travers Day card this summer at Saratoga.
Next-out in the Flower Bowl, Lady Eli indicated that not only was she back, but she was better than she’s ever been and a force to be reckoned with on Racing’s Championship Day. The 4-year-old Divine Park filly is owned by Sheep Pond Partners and trained by Chad Brown.
Lady Eli’s stablemate in this race is the French-bred filly Sea Calisi for owner Martin S. Schwartz. Sea Calisi earned an automatic berth into this race through her win in the Beverly D. Stakes (GIT) at Arlington Park this summer. Sea Calisi has won two of her four starts in America this year, with her other victory coming in the Sheepshead Bay Stakes (GIIT) in May. She also owns a second to Dacita in the New York Stakes (GIIT) and third behind Lady Eli and Sentiero Italia in the Flower Bowl.
After winning two straight grade 2 races on the turf in New York last year, Sentiero Italia moved up to the top level with a third in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (GIT) at Keeneland and a subsequent fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf over the same course. On the sidelines until late July, Sentiero Italia returned in a high-level allowance at Saratoga in mid-July, scoring a front-running victory by 2 ¼ lengths, and then the Medaglia D’Oro filly stepped it up to graded stakes company in the Ballston Spa finishing third beaten just over a length by Strike Charmer and Lady Eli. In the Flower Bowl she set a tepid pace before falling three-quarters of a length short to Lady Eli at the wire. Sentiero Italia is owned by Godolphin Racing, LLC and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
Two speedy fillies that could opt to run in shorter races are the Todd Pletcher-trained Photo Call and the Mark Casse-trained Catch a Glimpse. Canada’s 2015 Horse of the Year, Catch a Glimpse was 8-for-8 on the turf before being overtaken by Time and Motion in the final furlong of the Lake Placid (GIIT) Stakes and then fading to seventh after setting all the pace in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. The City Zip filly, owned in partnership by Gary Barber, Ambler, Michael James, and Windways Farm is also pre-entered in the Turf Sprint. Photo Call pulled a monumental upset in her most recent start when running away from the field early and holding them all off late taking the First Lady Stakes (GIT) at Keeneland, defeating the champion mare and division leader Tepin at 30-1 odds. Owned by Teresa Viola Racing Stables, Photo Call has first preference in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GIT).
The final trio of American-based runners set for this race are Avenge, Al’s Gal, and Zipessa. The Richard Mandella-trained Avenge is coming off of impressive front-running scores in the John C. Mabee Stakes (GIIT) at Del Mar and the “Win and You’re In” Rodeo Drive Stakes (GIT) at Santa Anita. Owned by Ramona S. Bass, the daughter of War Front cost a hefty $650,000 as a yearling and finally seems to be living up to that price tag. Al’s Gal had been chasing a graded stakes victory all year, and finally snagged one in the E. P. Taylor (GIT) in her most recent start. Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trained by Mike Maker, Al’s Gal will be running off of just 20 days rest. The speedy Zipessa has been no worse than fourth in six starts this year for trainer owners Empyrean Stables and trainer Mike Stidham.
South America could be represented by two runners this year in Ryans Charm and Kitcat. Ryans Charm earned an automatic berth to the race with her win in the Clasico Pamplona (GIT), which was her sixth straight win and second at the top level. The daughter of Heatseeker, owned by Takaya Shimakawa, has not run since June but has been at Santa Anita with trainer Patrick Gallagher since September. The Chilean filly Kitcat is the second also-eligible for this race but does have a free berth into the Mile.
The Japanese mare Nuovo Record has not won since March of 2015, but the list of horses she’s lost to is quite impressive—Werther, Maurice, Marialite and A Shin Hikari, just to name a few. The 2014 Japanese Oaks (GIT) winner has not hit the board in her last three starts, but those were all against males. Owned by Reiko Hara and trained by Saito Makoto, this will be her first venture outside of Asia.
Aidan O’Brien has three fillies in this race with Alice Springs, Seventh Heaven and the first also-eligible, Pretty Perfect. Alice Springs qualified for this race with a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series win in the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron (GIT) at Leopardstown. The winner of three group 1 races this season is expected to opt for the Mile over this race.
O’Brien’s other two fillies, Seventh Heaven and Pretty Perfect, are also pre-entered in the Turf. Seventh Heaven earned a free spot in the starting gate through her Darley Yorkshire Oaks (GIT) win and could vie for favoritism if she runs. Pretty Perfect is not yet in the main body of the field, but the group 3 winner will likely gain a spot as long as Alice Springs runs in the Mile. All three fillies are owned by Coolmore and sired by Galileo.
Rounding out the probable field are the French filly Spectre and the Sir Michael Stoute trainee, Queen’s Trust. Spectre, who is owned by M M Racing Stable and trained by Markus Munch, was a group 3 winner in her seasonal debut in May and most recently was second to the talented older horse Vadamos in a group 1 at Chantilly. Queen’s Trust, owned by Cheveley Park Stud, LLC, has yet to win a group race for herself but has been second or third in three group 1 tries in her past three starts.