Mucciolo: Elate the play in Distaff
While her task is not an easy one, the dark bay has an edge of recent activity over several main rivals and might be facing them at the exact right time. If Elate were to win this as I expect, a championship should follow an Alabama-Beldame-Distaff triple.
Multiple Grade 1 queen FOREVER UNBRIDLED was a close third in the 2016 Distaff behind future Hall of Famers Beholder and Songbird. The daughter of Unbridled’s Song has the best late turn of foot in this field but I do have some concern that she has run just twice in 2017 and has not been to post since August. Bay five-year-old is all class and could surely win this race with her best. A win will make her a champion.
Champion STELLAR WIND is perfect from three runs at Del Mar and unbeaten from a trio of outings this campaign for John Sadler. Chestnut daughter of Curlin is a superb 10-for-15 lifetime and has carried her form over three seasons as a sign of a genuinely great mare. Second in the 2015 Distaff and fourth in last year’s edition, the Virginia-bred has evolved from a deep closer to one who gets involved in the early going and it has paid off with five Grade 1 wins from her last six races. With just three runs in 2017 and none since July, she is another who I feel might be just a hint less than her best in the Distaff – and that won’t cut it in this field.
ABEL TASMAN is the leader in the sophomore fillies division at this juncture off the strength of her wins in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Coaching Club (G1) and Acorn (G1), and I liked her prep for this when second in the Cotillion (G1) at Parx. Bay filly by Quality Road has been first or second in every race following her debut and owns a win at Del Mar, which is a positive. Sophomore is a bit quirky and can be a handful to ride, so having Mike Smith in the silks is a wise move. I believe she is a bit behind the best in this field, though she isn’t as far behind as some might think.
PARADISE WOODS is the wild card in the field for me for Richard Mandella. Union Rags filly has a world of early foot and on occasion looks like a superstar, but she has put in enough clunkers to give me great confusion on how to judge her. Lightly raced sort aired in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) during the spring and in the Zenyatta (G1) last time, but both of those came at Santa Anita. The filly never fired in a lone run at Del Mar. The reason I fear this talented lass is that she might open up a sizable early edge on this field under Flavien Prat and lull them to sleep. Sophomore will likely be peaking for nine-time Breeders’ Cup race winner Mandella and I take Paradise Woods as an all-or-nothing type in this affair. A win here will make her an intriguing Eclipse Award candidate with tallies in the Distaff-Zenyatta-Santa Anita Oaks in 2017.
Champion CHAMPAGNE ROOM, Doug O’Neill’s MOPOTISM and Spinster (G1) queen ROMANTIC VISION would all need to move forward in a big way to challenge the top five.
I expect Paradise Woods to gain an edge early, with Stellar Wind never that far back and her nearest foe early on. Abel Tasman, Elate and possibly Champagne Room will be in the next flight, and the fast-closing Forever Unbridled being unhurried early on with the other duo.
Elate is one of my top picks over the weekend and I will back her with confidence. I will play cold exactas with Elate on top of Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled, and smaller exactas with Abel Tasman and Forever Woods underneath. In addition, I will play a Forever Woods-Elate exacta as insurance.