The highlight of Friday’s Breeders’ Cup races is the $2,000,000 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, headlined by the now-five-year-old Stellar Wind, who will be making her third attempt at this race.
In the few days that racing has been conducted at Del Mar leading up to this race, tactical speed has been imperative to victory. If that trend continues, I expect #7 Paradise Woods to be very tough in this spot. The three-year-old daughter of Union Rags is easily the quickest horse in the race, and while I have a tough time putting absolute faith in her – she’s shown flashes of brilliance, but has been mediocre at best in between her runaway wins in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) in April and the Zenyatta (G1) in September. She didn’t beat much in the latter, but trounced eventual Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Abel Tasman, also in this race, in the Santa Anita Oaks. If she is allowed to get loose on the lead, she will be very hard to run down, and there isn’t any dedicated speed in the race with her quality.
That said, I believe that there is enough tactical speed among the rest of the field that she doesn’t necessarily get a free pass on the front end. #2 Stellar Wind is the horse to beat, and she is not slow out of the gate. She has enough speed to be within a few lengths of her younger foe on the lead and has the tenacity and ability to run her down if she’s on her game. However, the five-year-old has entered this race off of two narrow victories over Vale Dori, who is a very talented mare that has been in the form of her life this year, but does not inspire the confidence that Stellar Wind’s two victories over Beholder that she held coming into this same race last year. She can’t be discounted, but she was fourth in this race last year and may not be as good as she was then.
A horse from the same crop as Stellar Wind who may be ready to put in the race of her life is #6 Forever Unbridled. This multiple G1-winning daughter of Unbridled’s Song ran a career-best 103 Beyer in this race last year and is coming off a victory in the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga, where she defeated last year’s champion 3-year-old filly Songbird. While the official margin of victory was only a neck, she was clearly best in that race and she should be rolling late here as well. One concern for her is the fact that she’s coming into the race this year off of two races, compared to five starts prior to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last year. This was by design, which makes it a bit less of a concern but it still raises some questions about how she is doing currently and whether she has improved off of her last race, which she would need to do in order to win this on numbers. If the track is playing against her, I hope to see John Velazquez position her a bit closer to the lead than she has been as of late; she has some races down her page where she has sat closer to the pace, despite coming from far back in her last few starts.
#4 Abel Tasman and #5 Elate are two other three-year-olds in this race, and neither would be a shock to see in the winners’ circle come Friday evening. Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Abel Tasman has never run a bad race, with the exception of her debut, and figures to be coming from mid-pack along with Forever Unbridled. She is exiting the Cotillion (G1), where she was second to It Tiz Well after an awkward break and overall imperfect trip. She has proven multiple times that she is a filly who is willing to fight for victory, and I expect her to get a call late in the race, whether she wins or not.
Elate is coming off of two consecutive G1 victories, including a win versus older in the Beldame Invitational (G1) at Belmont. However, that was a rather weak field in the Beldame, as evidenced by her odds-on favoritism in there. Third-place finisher Eskenformoney was also third in the Personal Ensign, and while she did return to win a stakes in her next outing, she is easily a cut below the likes of Stellar Wind or Forever Unbridled. Elate did, however, defeat It Tiz Well soundly in the Alabama (G1), and that filly returned to defeat Abel Tasman in her next outing. I suspect that Elate may be better at 1 1/4 than at the 1 1/8 distance of today’s race, so while I would not be surprised to see her put in another huge race, you have to make tough cuts in races with this kind of quality, and the distance is enough of a reason for me to leave her out of my selections, though not with any kind of confidence.
I’d also like to quickly mention defending champion two-year-old filly #1 Champagne Room. She is the one longshot in the race that I think has a chance to upset the more logical contenders. She’s incredibly tough to gauge off of just two races since her 33-1 win in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but she has the most speed of anyone in the race outside of Paradise Woods, and looked very professional in winning the Remington Park Oaks in her last start. Of course, a race like the Remington Park Oaks is a far cry from the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and her only other start of the year saw her finishing 10 lengths behind Unique Bella in the Las Virgenes (G2). #3 Mopotism was over a length clear of Champagne Room finishing second in that race, and she has done next to nothing since, 4th behind It Tiz Well and Abel Tasman in the Cotillion and 7th behind Elate in the Alabama. Champagne Room could still be a major factor in the race, though, as if jockey Mario Gutierrez chooses to pressure Paradise Woods for the lead, she could be a thorn in the side of that rival and set it up for one of the closers to have a better chance to run them down. She’s also been working lights-out as of late, with a recent bullet workout at Santa Anita: 5f in :59.8 on October 27th, and an additional bullet work at 4f at that track October 13th. She would need to be every bit of her morning line odds of 15-1 to even be worth a consideration in here, with five opponents that are clearly superior on paper, but she could sweeten some tri or superfectas if speed is holding at Del Mar as well as some proclaim.
Overall, this race is a wide-open affair between the top five morning line picks, and I wouldn’t talk you off of any of them, but after much deliberation, I will place my proverbial checkmark next to #7 Paradise Woods. She is the fastest horse in the race, and might be able to simply run the rest of the field off their feet. I don’t think you will get her at the 9-2 morning line price, which I would consider a bit of an overlay relative to her chances of winning, but if you do she is definitely worth a straight-up win bet. More likely, though, I think she ends up around 3-1 or 7-2 due to the current Twitter buzz about a speed bias at Del Mar. At the end of the day, I’ll likely place my money (i.e. a $2 win bet because I am flat broke) on either her, Stellar Wind, or Forever Unbridled – whichever one is the highest price at post time.