By Anthony Stabile
$2 million; 1 1/8 miles; 3up(f&m)
It’s the undisputed highlight of the Friday card and it is responsible for one of the most memorable moments in the history of the Breeders’ Cup when Personal Ensign gunned down Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors in THE final stride of the 1988 running at Churchill Downs. Bayakoa won back to back runnings the following two years. Inside Information won it in 1995 by 13 ½ lengths, the largest winning margin in Breeders’ Cup history. Before tackling the boys twice, Zenyatta graced this race with her presence when she won it in 2008. Royal Delta won her second consecutive running in 2012 before failing in her attempt to three-peat in 2013 when 2012 Juvenile Fillies champ Beholder became the first winner of a juvenile event to win another Breeders’ Cup race.
Beholder was being pointed to a Distaff defense but has unfortunately been forced to the sidelines after spiking a high fever a couple of weekends ago. Her affinity for the surface would have made her the likely favorite in here, a role that will now go to either Untapable or Close Hatches.
Untapable has almost assuredly locked up a three-year-old filly championship for Steve Asmussen and now returns to the place of her most disappointing effort as she finished far back after encountering a spill in last years’ Juvenile Fillies. She finished her juvenile season with a third place finish in the G1 Hollywood Starlet.
This year, Untapable has been nearly unbeatable, with her lone defeat coming against the boys in the G1 Haskell at Monmouth on a day where she didn’t look like herself from the start. Against fillies, she’s a perfect five for five this year, including three G1 wins in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, Mother Goose at Belmont and Cotillion at Parx. Last out in the Cotillion, Untapable overcame a bit of a speed bias to win by a workmanlike length.
As for Close Hatches, no one really knows what happened last out when she flopped spectacularly in the G1 Spinster at Keeneland as the 1-5 favorite. What we do know is she was undefeated in four starts this year prior to that and sports victories in the G2 Azeri and G1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, G1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont and the G1 Personal Ensign over the mud at Saratoga.
The Ogden Phipps was a reunion of sorts, as the big three from the Distaff last year – Beholder, Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches – duked it out once again, with Close Hatches holding off Princess of Sylmar by a head. Like Untapable, Close Hatches has year-end division honors locked up as she will be the older filly and mare champ but likely lost any chance at Horse of the Year with that Spinster debacle.
The Phipps also featured a sneaky good performance by Belle Gallantey. Claimed in her last start of 2013 by Rudy Rodriguez for $35K, Belle Gallantey won three straight against much lesser on the front end before being taken off the pace in the Phipps where she was beaten less than two lengths.
Belle Gallantey went back to her speedy self in the G1 Delaware Handicap, upsetting Princess of Sylmar with a wire-to-wire score by almost three lengths. Off the board in the Personal Ensign when taken off the pace, she went right to the top last out in the G1 Beldame at Belmont and romped, winning by over eight lengths.
With Beholder out, Iotapa is California’s best hope to keep the Distaff title out west. Trained by John Sadler, Iotapa has won three of seven starts this year. She won the G2 Santa Maria in her second start of the season and scored in back to back G1 races, the Vanity, also at Santa Anita and the Clement Hirsch over the Del Mar Polytrack.
Last out in the G1 Zenyatta, her first start in eight weeks, Iotapa broke a tad slow but got up late to get the show dough, four lengths behind Beholder. It’s worth noting that Iotapa has improved in her second start off of layoffs on three separate occasions throughout her career.
Don’t Tell Sophia, purchased for just $1,000 by her connections, capitalized on Close Hatches’ toe stub by closing from far back to take the Spinster last out. On the season, she has won four of five including three minor stakes with her lone defeat coming in the Azeri where she was third for trainer and part-owner Phil Sims.
Bob Baffert sends out Tiz Midnight, the filly who gave Beholder all she could handle in the Zenyatta last out. Tiz Midnight rode a three race win streak against lesser into the Zenyatta, her graded stakes debut, and tried to take them gate-to-wire but gave way grudgingly through the stretch to miss by under a length.
Ria Antonia won the Juvenile Fillies via a controversial DQ of She’s a Tiger last year but is winless in her eight starts since. She’s changed trainers three times this season and now resides in the barn of Tom Amoss. She pressed Close Hatches in the Spinster last out when Amoss but the blinkers back on and while Close hatches faded through the lane this filly held on gamely to hold place.
Stanwyck is winless in seven starts this year since closing out 2013 with a win in the G3 Turnback the Alarm at Belmont. To her credit, she has been second in the G3 Shuvee and third in the Santa Maria, G1 Santa Margarita, G1 Apple Blossom and Personal Ensign for trainer John Shirreffs.
Unbridled Forever has hit the board in five of her last six against some of the top sophomore fillies in the land for Dallas Stewart. Second in the G1 CCA Oaks behind Stopchargingmaria and last out in the G2 Indiana Oaks when she made the lead a bit too soon, she was also third behind Untapable in both the Kentucky Oaks and G2 Fair Grounds Oaks as well as the G1 Acorn at Belmont.
L’Amour de Ma Vie ships over from Europe for Pia Brandt and is in search of her first G1 win. Just one for six this year and three for 13 overall in her career, L’Amour de Ma Vie won the G2 District One in Dubai this past winter but is winless in her four starts since.
Valiant Emilia is a Win and You’re In challenge winner in her native Peru for her trainer Juan Suarez. She’s won four of six starts this year and 11 of 23 overall in her career including a G3 last out and has California’s leading rider Rafael Bejarano in the saddle.