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Breeders' Cup 2017

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What is in store for the Breeders' Cup Distaff in 2017?

Will the race hold up to the thrill of Beholder's nose last year?

Through most of its history, the main contestants in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff have used traditional lead-ups as their final prep for the big event.

But in 2017, in common with a growing trend in other races, that may not happen.

Two horses expected to be near the top of the market for the 1 1/8-mile Distaff Nov. 3 won’t have run at all in September or October. In fact, they’ve run just five times between them all year.

Stellar Wind, unbeaten in three starts this year, hasn’t run since the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar July 30. Forever Unbridled has had two starts for two wins in 2017, with her most recent victory being the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga Aug. 26.


In the past, if you want to find the winner of the Distaff, you needed to watch four key races: the Cotillion Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies at Parx six weeks before the big race, the Zenyatta Stakes (G1, formerly the Lady’s Secret Stakes) at Santa Anita five weeks beforehand, the Beldame Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on the same weekend as the Zenyatta, and the Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland four weeks beforehand.

In the 33-year history of the Distaff, 29 winners ran in one of these four races. Ten used the Beldame as their final prep, 10 used the Spinster, seven used the Zenyatta, and two ran in the Cotillion. All four, especially the Cotillion, have also produced numerous fillies that finished second or third in the Distaff. The Distaff winner didn’t necessarily win these leadups – of those 29, 15 were beaten – but they usually ran well.

However, after Bob Baffert gave both American Pharoah (2015) and Arrogate (2016) a nine-week gap from racing prior to winning the past two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it appears other trainers are considering the same approach.

The same year American Pharoah won the Classic, that year’s Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria hadn’t run since the Personal Ensign in late August. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the decision not to race her in between was vital, as she raced best on the fresh side. Only Escena (1998) among Distaff winners had taken that path before.

Most of the candidates for the Distaff did use traditional lead-ups, especially the 3-year-old fillies. It Tiz Well and Abel Tasman filled the exacta in the Cotillion, Elate won the Beldame, and Paradise Woods the Zenyatta. Any
one of them could easily win.

However, it’s more than likely that punters will need to start watching a little earlier in the year in future when trying to decide how to play the Distaff.