Kilroy's Top 10 Breeders' Cup Distaffs of All Time

October 5th, 2022

Time and again over the past 37 runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), we have witnessed the best of our sport regardless of gender. The top editions of the Distaff have put all that we love about horses on full display: their honesty, their determination, their athleticism, and their guts.

After a year of talented and formful females like Malathaat, Clairiere, and Search Results trading blows, and three-year-old Nest finishing second against the males in the Belmont (G1), the 2022 Distaff sets up to offer an adrenaline rush on par with the best runnings of all time. 

Here’s my Top 10:

10. 2001 Unbridled Elaine 

Of Dallas Stewart’s two wins in the Distaff, Unbridled Elaine’s run stands as one of the most impressive of all time. Talk about a longshot getting longer through every call! After breaking in mid-air at 12-1, jockey Pat Day didn’t panic. Unbridled Elaine begins to steadily gain on the inside, but the brakes get slammed on second turn. After altering paths, Unbridled Elaine chases down 2000 Distaff winner Spain.

9. 2018 Monomoy Girl

Monomoy Girl’s competition was stout, including a Distaff winner and two Eclipse champions. But the Brad Cox-trained three-year-old filly was on her way to her own Eclipse Award, the first of two Distaff wins for Monomoy Girl.

8. 1986 Lady’s Secret 

In her 16-race, all-graded-stakes campaign in 1986, Lady’s Secret didn’t finish out of the money once. Trained by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, the Coach’s mare was as formful as they get, with 10 of her 25 career wins coming that year, including a win over the males in the Whitney (G1). This front-running score by the daughter of Secretariat was absolutely dominant, and Horse of the Year honors came with it.

7. 2007 Ginger Punch 

Ginger Punch and Hystericalady’s stretch run is as fierce as they get. Dueling over the sloppy surface, they exchanged bumps and went to the bottom of their wells to keep finding more. After being headed in the lane, Ginger Punch courageously fights back along tight quarters on the rail and shows the guts of a champion to get past her rival. But wait, here comes the late-flying Octave! With this win, Ginger Punch punched her ticket as the champion older dirt female.

6. 2008 Zenyatta 

The first of three thrilling Breeders’ Cup runs from Zenyatta, the Hall of Famer entered the 2008 Distaff unbeaten from eight starts, and the three-year-old faced a quality foe in defending champion Ginger Punch. Last at the five-sixteenth pole, Mike Smith sent Zenyatta five-wide to circle the field and win by daylight, much to the delight of the Santa Anita crowd. She was one of the greatest late runners of the modern era, and Zenyatta captured 19 of 20 tries during her distinguished career.

5. 2002 Azeri

Before Mike Smith rode Zenyatta to one win shy of perfection, he did something similar with Azeri. Winner of 15 of her first 18 races with Smith aboard, her gate-to-wire triumph in the 2002 Distaff was the most impressive. Taking to the front, she traveled the first six furlongs in a scorching 1:09.7, and Azeri was named Horse of the Year following her five-length win.

4. 2016 Beholder

Beholder’s final career start proved to be a stunning success. Winner of the 2012 Juvenile Fillies (G1) and 2013 Distaff, Beholder was still going strong at age 6 and pursued a record-tying third Breeders’ Cup win in the 2016 Distaff, but an outstanding rival stood in her way, two-time champion Songbird. Favored at even-money with terrific speed, Songbird sped to the front and led the field through slow fractions. The pacesetter had plenty left in the tank to finish strong, but Beholder was just too good. Watch this determined generational talent go all out—it is as gutsy and graceful of a stretch run as you will find.

3. 1998 Escena 

In the 1998 Distaff at Churchill Downs, only a whisker’s distance separated the champion older female and champion three-year-old filly of that season. Escena took the lead and emptied the tanks to hold off the late charge from Banshee Breeze by the slimmest of margins. Escena provided Bill Mott, who eventually won a record five Distaffs, with back-to-back wins in the race.

2. 1995 Inside Information

The top two spots go to Ogden Phipps-homebreds trained by Shug McGaughey. Just 0.6 seconds shy of Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont track record, Inside Information's 1995 Distaff win remains the largest margin of victory in Breeders’ Cup history at 13 1/2  lengths.

1. 1988 Personal Ensign 

Not only is Personal Ensign’s victory the best Distaff, it deserves to be called the best race in Breeders’ Cup history. Perfection was on the line in 1988, when Personal Ensign entered the Distaff starting gate. And the field she faced couldn’t be stiffer, including Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors, Kentucky Oaks winner Goodbye Halo, and champion Epitome. Winning Colors looked to have the race in hand, but Personal Ensign’s determination and talent was on full display throughout every inch of the 1 1/4-mile distance, making it 13 wins in 13 runs.