Who is the greatest Flower Bowl Stakes winner?

Profile Picture: Rowan Ward

September 1st, 2021

Some of the best turf fillies and mares in the country will bid for a Breeders' Cup spot in the Sept. 4 Flower Bowl S. (G1), run at Saratoga for the first time in 2021.

But, before we look ahead at this year's edition, let's look back at some of the greatest to win the race. 

Then, you have your say. Who is the greatest Flower Bowl winner?

Lady Eli (2016)

Lady Eli was a star at ages two and three. She won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1)  and the Belmont Oaks (G1) and went undefeated through her first six starts.

Anyone who followed racing at the time remembers the story. She stepped on a nail on the way back to the barn after the Belmont Oaks and developed laminitis in both front feet. She beat massive odds to survive, but also returned to the elite ranks of horse racing.

Though she missed by three-quarters of a length in her first race back, the Ballston Spa S. (G2), she returned to her customary spot in the winners' circle in the 2016 Flower Bowl, after she rallied to overtake Sentiero Italia to win by three-quarters of a length.

Lady Eli went on to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) that year and won two more Grade 1 races at age five.

Lady Shirl (1991)

Illinois-bred horses by Illinois sires rarely make the impact left by Lady Shirl.

A daughter of multiple Grade 3 winner That's a Nice, Lady Shirl outran her humble breeding. A debut two-year-old winner, she was a stakes winner at three, then a graded stakes winner at four, when she won the 1991 Modesty S. (G3) at Arlington. Two starts later, she became the first Illinois-bred filly or mare to win a Grade 1, when she wired the Flower Bowl. Later that year, she snapped a nine-year streak of overseas shippers in the E. P. Taylor S. (G2), when she won by three lengths, over soft ground.

Lady Shirl stayed in training through age seven. She won five more times and hit the board in the E. P. Taylor at six.

As a broodmare, she produced four stakes winners, including Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl and multiple Grade 1 winner Shakespeare.

Soaring Softly (1999)

Soaring Softly started her career as a dirt horse and even finished fourth in the Acorn S. (G1) as a three-year-old.

But she shot to her greatest prominence at age four, as a turf mare. An allowance win on the Gulfstream grass in March of 1999 kicked off a five-win streak that carried her through the Sheepshead Bay H. (G2) and the New York H. (G2).

Though she was uncharacteristically outfinished in the Diana H. (G2), where she crossed the wire fifth, behind Heritage of Gold, she turned the tables and returned to her best in the Flower Bowl, where she drove clear to win by a length.

After a win in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Soaring Softly was named champion grass mare for 1999.

She is remembered as the namesake of a stakes race at Belmont, a Grade 3, seven-furlong turf sprint for fillies.

Stephanie's Kitten (2014, 2015)

Stephanie's Kitten was precocious, broke her maiden in her second start at age two, and went on to win the Alcibiades S. (G1) and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

But precocity wasn't all she had.

She remained one of the best in her class at age three, four, five, and six. Her 11 wins included five at the Grade 1 level. One of those was the Flower Bowl in 2014, when she kicked home to win by 1 1/4 lengths, before she finished second to Dayatthespa in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

At age six, she did one better. She not only repeated in the Flower Bowl, but held off heavily favored Irish raider Legatissimo to finally claim her day in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Waya (1978)

It always bodes well when a good horse wins the first edition of a race, and Waya was a very nice horse.

Foaled in France, she raced eight times at age three in her home country, including victories in the Prix de Royaumont (G3) and the Prix de l'Opera (G2).

In 1978, her four-year-old year, she took the filly and mare turf division by storm, with wins the Flower Bowl, the Diana, and also the Man O' War S. (G1) against males. Unfortunately, the Eclipse Award for champion grass mare did not exist until the following year.

At five, Waya was a dual-surface threat. Her 12 starts at five included wins in the Santa Barbara H. (G1) on grass and the Top Flight H. (G1) and the Beldame S. (G1) on dirt. She was named the champion older mare of 1979, and Saratoga still runs a race in her name.

Who is the greatest winner of the Flower Bowl?

Looking back to last week, we asked you about the greatest moment in Travers Stakes history. We had a dead heat! Many (45%) voters loved Damascus' 22-length score, but just as many loved a good upset, Keen Ice's shocker against American Pharoah.