It’s time for the second installment of my coverage of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff for US Racing. Absolutely nothing happened in last Saturday’s Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing to diminish my excitement over the race or take away from the title of the first installment of this series — “Anticipation.”
The 2016 Distaff is looking like it will be one heck of a horse race and Songbird certainly did her part in the Cotillion to keep hope alive. She was simply devastating once again, improving her unblemished record to 11 for 11. Furthermore, she ratcheted up the hype already surrounding her.
However, before we label Songbird as one of the best ever, which she may ultimately prove to be, she’s going to have to do what she has done against competition she is clearly better and faster than, against competition that can force her to pin her ears back and dig in. She has not been in the gate with anyone who can do that just yet and, in all fairness, we don’t know at this point if there is any horse out there that can.
Hence, the anticipation continues.
Obviously, Beholder is the most likely candidate to force Songbird to have to really run in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She may not be the only one, but she is the most likely one.
We will get to see her strut her stuff Saturday at Santa Anita against the talented Stellar Wind in the Zenyatta (GI). Stellar Wind beat Beholder earlier this year in the Clement Hirsch, prompting some untrained eyes to opine Beholder had lost a step.
I don’t think so — and nothing in that race indicated it did. She came home well, with a respectable final eighth of a mile after being off for nearly a year. Stellar Wind already had a race in the tank. Beholder was also prepping for the Pacific Classic against males and, if you know Richard Mandela, he is a master at using a race to get a horse to peak when he wants and point towards the ultimate goal. He’s been doing it as well as anyone for years.
Having a seasoned veteran and Hall of Famer like Gary Stevens in the irons certainly does not hurt the cause either. Beholder validated she had not lost a step when she ran a dead-game second to California Chrome, arguably the best older horse in training, in the Pacific Classic. To put an exclamation point on that, the Pacific Classic was probably the best race Chrome has ever run.
A Beholder win in the Zenyatta will put the Distaff right up there with the Breeders’ Cup Classic as one of the most — if not the most — anticipated races of the year. In fact, it will likely be as significant, historically, as Rachel Alexandra versus Zenyatta matchup would have been in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park a few years ago. Unfortunately, Rachel could not make that dance, but we still have a shot to see Songbird and Beholder in the gate together later this year.
There is talk Beholder may opt for the Classic, but my sources and my gut tell me otherwise. I guess we’ll see.
Vale Dori, an Argentina-bred trained by Bob Baffert, who has just two improving starts in this country, is an interesting entrant in the Zenyatta. I’m not sure she is up to this task just yet, but if Beholder is saving some gas for the Breeders’ Cup, then I would not be shocked if the two big gals have a race on their hands.
Should Val Dori pull off the upset, she’d have to be considered a serious threat for the Distaff. And one should never underestimate Bob Baffert — unless, of course, one has a dislike of currency.
Curalina, Forever Unbridled, Cavorting and I’m a Chatterbox seem the best of the East Coasters, but none seem to be as good or as fast as the West Coasters.
We’ll talk more about them and give them their due as we get closer to race day. I have a feeling, however, the Distaff is going to be one for the ages with Songbird and Beholder hooking up and putting on a show to remember.