Distaff the Race of the Year
The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) is the marquee event of a two-day extravaganza at Santa Anita, with all eyes on the remarkable California Chrome as he aims to cement his legacy as one of the better horses to come around in our lifetime. The California-bred supremo is already North America’s all-time leading money earner and it would be fitting to see him add a Classic win to the list of fantastic accomplishments (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Pacific Classic, Dubai World Cup etc.). But my favorite race of the two-day run occurs Friday at roughly 7:35 (ET).
The $2 million Distaff plays second fiddle to the Classic each season but 2016 is no ordinary year. Where else can we find a race that will pit a surefire Hall of Fame mare who rates as one of the best in decades against a champion older rival who is peaking and has topped her twice in succession, as well as an unbeaten superstar who has simply never been challenged running every field off their respective hooves and is being touted by some as the greatest 3-year-old filly ever? And, toss in a trio of other Grade 1 queens who are in top form, and you have the Race of the Year.
Although as a fan I don’t feel the need to bet on this race, I likely will and am at a crossroads as where to go.
Beholder is an all-timer in my book, 13-for-15 at Santa Anita with a pair of second-place finishes. The 6-year-old mare is reportedly training in fine fashion in preparation for her career finale and is in good hands with Hall of Fame conditioner Richard Mandella. Kentucky-bred mare has bagged a pair of Breeders’ Cup races on this surface (2012 Juvenile Fillies & 2013 Distaff) and never runs a bad one – Beholder is routinely brilliant. The sentimental pick is here so I can see this daughter of Henny Hughes close out her career as exactly what she is – a Champion of Champions.
Stellar Wind has looked Beholder in the eye and topped her in two straight and the John Sadler trainee has more room for improvement being relatively lightly raced with only three starts this year. The daughter of Curlin is 4-for-5 with a second at Santa Anita and shows a fine trio of workouts in preparation. A narrow second in the 2015 Distaff, Stellar Wind may offer the most value of the top trio and is eligible to receive an ideal trip if a rival makes Songbird work during the opening stages. The handicapper in me may side here for those two reasons.
Songbird, well, Songbird is Songbird. The sophomore filly has decimated foes from 6-panels to 1 ¼ miles, from California to Kentucky to Pennsylvania to New York, and I honestly have no idea how good she can be if looked in the eye. The sublime daughter of Medaglia d’Oro draws the rail, which looks like a good thing as she will be sent from the break by Mike Smith. Her dominant ways make Songbird a single for many horse players and even though she will be facing her elders for the first time, it will be no surprise to see her continue to roll.
In the end, I will follow my heart and give the check mark to Beholder!
Beholder photos courtesy of Benoit & Breeders' Cup Limited