Distaff could be decided by Kentucky Oaks rematch - NBC Sports

Distaff could be decided by Kentucky Oaks rematch
Princess of Sylmar topped Beholder in May at Churchill Downs; they meet Friday at Santa Anita
October 29, 2013, 8:00 pm

Friday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff features quality over quantity. Only six females will line up for 1 1/8-mile event at Santa Anita, but it’s a star-studded cast. The Distaff is one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the Breeders’ Cup.

NBCSN will televise all five Breeders’ Cup races on Friday at Santa Anita from 4-8 p.m. ET. Post time for the Distaff is 7:35.

Before making a selection, let’s take a look at the Distaff field:

Royal Delta, the two-time defending Distaff champion, is the 8-5 favorite on the morning line. Owned by Besilu Stables and trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the 5-year-old mare will be ridden by Mike Smith, the leading all-time rider in Breeders’ Cup history with 17 wins. A three-time stakes heroine in 2013, Royal Delta already has the Eclipse Award for champion older female locked up. She’s earned more than $4.6 million during her outstanding career.

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Princess of Sylmar rates as the leading 3-year-old filly in the country and is a Horse of the Year candidate -- she needs a Distaff victory and losses from Game On Dude (Classic) and Wise Dan (Mile) to make a serious case for Thoroughbred racing’s top honor. Perhaps best known for capturing the Kentucky Oaks in May, Princess of Sylmar brings a four-race win streak into the Distaff, all Grade 1 tallies, and knocked off Royal Delta in her last start, the Sept. 28 Beldame at Belmont Park. She was installed as the 9-5 second choice and will be ridden by Javier Castellano. Todd Pletcher trains for King of Prussia Stable.

Beholder is another 3-year-old of the highest class. The 2012 champion 2-year-old filly by virtue of her victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita, Beholder has won four of her last five starts, the lone setback coming as a narrow second to Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks. The speedy filly prepped for the Distaff with a sharp wire-to-wire score in the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita on Sept. 28 and will be the one to catch with Gary Stevens. Listed as the 5-2 third choice, the Spendthrift Farm color-bearer is trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella.

Close Hatches does not merit the attention of the top three, but the talented 3-year-old filly exits a pair of Grade 1 scores in the Cotillion and Mother Goose. And she defeated Princess of Sylmar earlier this year in the Gazelle at Aqueduct (Princess of Sylmar turned the tables in the Kentucky Oaks). Owned by Juddmonte Farms, Close Hatches is trained by Mott and will be re-united with jockey Joel Rosario, who missed her last start due to an injury. Close Hatches is 6-1 on the morning line.

Authenticity would be a top contender most years, but this year’s Distaff field is so deep that she is considered an outsider. The Pletcher trainee has recorded some nice graded stakes wins this year, taking the La Troienne at Churchill Downs and the Shuvee at Saratoga, and exits a good second to Beholder in the Zenyatta. Padua Stables owns the 6-year-old mare, who is the 8-1 fifth choice on the morning line, and John Velazquez rides.

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Street Girl is the only member of the field that would be considered a huge surprise in the winner’s circle. A listed stakes winner at Calder, the 3-year-old filly exits a late-running third in the Cotillion and will need to improve dramatically from a Speed ratings perspective to challenge. She is campaigned by Rontos Racing Stable Corp. and trained by Manny Azpurua. Angel Castillo retains the mount on the 10-1 longshot.

Analysis

Pace makes the race is one of the most popular axioms in Thoroughbred racing and Beholder appears to hold a significant edge with her early speed: The bay filly is fast from the gate and likes to show the way in her races. They will have to catch her to beat her.

Royal Delta led wire to wire by default in last year’s Distaff (there was no serious speed in the field), but she isn’t quick enough to run with Beholder early. Gary Stevens should be dictating the tempo, with the potential to catch a major breather if Beholder sprints clear as expected, and the Hall of Fame rider will look to save plenty for the latter stages.

Beholder will post a front-running victory.

Princess of Sylmar is the second choice –- the chestnut should be in position to pick up the pieces if the speed falters. She’s been a win machine for Pletcher (8-for-10 in her career) and possesses tremendous BRIS Speed and Pace ratings, but the likely pace scenario works against the extremely talented chestnut filly.

Royal Delta is capable with her best -– she’s been such a great performer over the last three seasons – but I did not like how she readily gave way to Princess of Sylmar in the stretch last time. The dark bay mare has traveled a lot of miles over the years (including two trips to Dubai for races) and could be a little over the top at the end of a stellar career. She rounds out my top three.