Very few fillies were up for the challenge of facing undefeated 2-year-old champion My Miss Aurelia and two-time grade I winner Questing in the Sept. 22 Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) at Parx Racing Sept. 22.
The $1,000,000 race, which drew only two other entrants, was named after the late Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. of the prominent Philadelphia-based Widener Thoroughbred racing family.
Slated as the 10th race on the card, the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies precedes the Philadelphia Derby (gr. II) and will go off at approximately 5:40 p.m.
It's not surprising Questing was installed as the morning line favorite for the Cotillion as the English-bred daughter of Hard Spun will enter the race off a scintillating, nine-length victory in the Aug. 18 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. The performance earned the filly a preliminary Beyer speed figure of 106.
"She's definitely the best 3-year-old filly in America on the dirt," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin following Questing's Alabama victory.
Owned by the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing, Questing has been perfect in her last three starts, including the July 21 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), where she coasted to a 4 1/4-length triumph after drifting out in the stretch.
Questing will tackle the 1 1/16-mile distance for the first time since 2011, when she ran fifth after being caught in traffic in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). That race was won by fellow Cotillion rival My Miss Aurelia.
Questing, who placed in a pair of group III races on turf in England for trainer John Gosden as a 2-year-old, was transferred to McLaughlin's barn following the Breeders' Cup. She was bred by Darley and is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Chercheuse. In all, the filly holds a record of 4-1-1 from nine starts, for earnings of $674,876.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who has been aboard for her last three starts, has the return call on Questing, who carries top weight of 124 pounds. The pair will break from post 2.
"The weights bother me a little bit and it's unfortunate we have to get seven pounds to My Miss Aurelia," McLaughlin told The Blood-Horse Sept. 18. "But that's the way the race is written, and we're not going to not run because of it. We have a lot of respect for Miss Aurelia, but hopefully everything goes our way Saturday.
"(Questing) doesn't like the whip, so we will ask Irad not to pick up the stick unless he needs to," McLaughlin added. "Hopefully she'll be on the lead and giving it her all."
My Miss Aurelia, best known for her victories in the 2011 Juvenile Fillies, as well as the Frizette (gr. I) and Adirondack Stakes (gr. II), has made only one start this year, but it was a winning one.
Owned by Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton, the daughter of Smart Strike drew off to a three-length score in the Aug. 8 Mandys Gold Stakes at Saratoga after recovering from a stumble at the start and making a gutsy, four-wide move on the turn. She entered the race off a nine-month layoff due to a sore shin.
"It's amazing how special she truly is," trainer Steve Asmussen said following My Miss Aurelia's winning 2012 debut. "The memories of her running last year were great. When she came back into the barn and we started training her and breezing her...you're hoping to have horses who are who she is. What a joy she is to be around."
My Miss Aurelia, a $550,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase in 2010, has now earned $1,440,000 from her five lifetime starts. Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet, she has 8-5 odds and will be ridden by Corey Nakatani.
Dixie Strike, a daughter of Dixie Union, has scored in three black-type events the last two years, including the May 13 Selene Stakes (Can-III) at Woodbine.
Trained by Mark Casse for John Oxley, she has raced the majority of her career in Canada, though she did win this year's Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs in February and ran third in the March 11 Herecomesthebride Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park.
Dixie Strike, who scored the richest victory of her career in the July 15 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, will enter the Cotillion off a dull, sixth-place effort in the Breeders' Stakes on turf at Woodbine.
Bred in Ontario by Arosa Farms, she has earned $896,045 from 12 starts. Ramon Dominguez has the mount on the filly, who will break from the outside post.
Rounding out the field is Phillips Racing Partnership's homebred filly Moment in Dixie, who ran second in the July 15 Serena's Song Stakes at Monmouth Park and the Aug. 17 Summer Guest Stakes at Saratoga.
Trained by James Toner, she has earned $123,200 from four starts and will break from the rail under Jose Lezcano.
$1,000,000 Cotillion Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, 5:40 p.m.), 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles, dirt
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Moment in Dixie (KY), J Lezcano, 114, J J Toner, 6-1
2. Questing (GB), I Ortiz, Jr., 124, K P McLaughlin, 1-1
3. My Miss Aurelia (KY), C S Nakatani, 117, S M Asmussen, 8-5
4. Dixie Strike (ON), R A Dominguez, 122, M E Casse, 4-1