Handicapping and betting, when you get right down to it, is all a matter of trust. Which horse or horses do you trust to run their best and thus fulfill expectations?

There are times, though, when you encounter a race where it’s difficult to entirely trust anyone, even the presumptive favorites. Stranger still is when these feelings arise while looking at a premier event.

Such doubts might prove to be misplaced, but the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) on November 3 is a race where signs of negativity, varying in quantity, seem to surround the expected main players.

From a betting perspective, the race seems to boil down to Abel Tasman, last year’s champion three-year-old, and Monomoy Girl, the presumptive champion of the division this season. You can also throw in the mix Midnight Bisou, another three-year-old.

Abel Tasman looked sparkling taking the Ogden Phipps (G1) in June and was dead game fending off the currently-sidelined Elate in the Personal Ensign (G1) in late August, but she’s also thrown in a couple clunkers this term. An odds-on flop in the La Troienne (G1), over the same track the Distaff will be held, was unexpected. More so was a distant fifth-place effort in the the Zenyatta (G1) last out as a 1-10 favorite.

“She was fighting something off,” Baffert said of Abel Tasman’s Zenyatta to Daily Racing Form. “She never got sick. She fought it off. But she wasn’t herself that day.”

Obviously so. How encouraging is it, though, that in an era of stealth campaigning that this precision-like targeting from a confirmed champion (not to mention last year’s Distaff runner-up) has resulted in only a 50 percent strike rate this season?

A look at Abel Tasman’s season thus far brings to mind Ashado, the 2004 champion three-year-old filly who was doing enough to be considered the best older filly or mare the following season but began showing signs of vulnerability as the Breeders’ Cup approached. Ashado wound up losing in her Distaff title defense by more than nine lengths as the 2-1 favorite.

There aren’t nearly as many negative vibes coming from the Monomoy Girl camp. She’s been overwhelmingly dominant in her division for the most part, and her only defeat thus far was when the stewards judged her actions in the stretch of the Cotillion (G1) intolerable.

However, that Cotillion gives cause for pause. What should have been a more dominating performance given her record and the fact she was in prime position turning for home instead turned into a slog home as Monomoy Girl seemed to lose focus (which she can’t be accused of doing much before) and drifted in and out into the oncoming Midnight Bisou.

Credit to Monomoy Girl for crossing the wire first, albeit after some maneuvering ultimately deemed impermissible. Still, it wasn’t the kind a performance we’d come to expect nor was it something you wanted to see leading up to her biggest race of the season.

Midnight Bisou arguably ran her best race of the year in the Cotillion, in which she was elevated to first. She might be peaking, or then again she might revert to the form we saw in either the Alabama (G1) or in prior encounters with Monomoy Girl when she proved only best of the rest. The fact she’s never won beyond 1 1/16 miles is also food for thought.

Do these concerns suggest the Distaff is ripe for an upset, major or otherwise? Only Blue Prize and Wow Cat among the other prospective contenders look enticing, but neither has yet run up to the standard seemingly required to win the race.

It’s more likely than not that one of the protagonists will remove any existing doubts and win. Who you can trust to do so remains open to debate.

(Abel Tasman: Photos by Z)