Pine Island, bred and owned by the Phipps Stable, probably wouldn't win an equine beauty contest. She's tall and lanky with crooked legs that toe in. But if pretty is as pretty does, the daughter of Arch
is Miss America on the racetrack. Even though she's only 3-years-old, Pine Island is among the favorites for the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Saturday after winning the Alabama (gr. I) and Gazelle (gr. I) Stakes earlier this year.
"She was big, and she was awkward," said trainer Shug McGaughey, describing Pine Island as a 2-year-old. "At one time, there was a little bit of talk about maybe putting her in a yearling sale. But I'll give Mr. (Ogden Mills) Phipps credit. He was the one who said, 'No, let's just keep her and break her, and we'll see if anything happens. If we have to put her in a broodmare sale somewhere along the line that's what we'll do.' "
Pine Island didn't race as juvenile.
"Somebody asked me where she was on my list at the first of this year; well, she wasn't on it," McGaughey said. "He (Phipps) wasn't calling me every day asking about the Arch filly. But the more we did with her, the more she acted like she would have a little quality to her."
Pine Island made her career debut at Gulfstream Park in March on the turf, breaking her maiden by a neck over Hostess. She rolled to a 5 1/2-length allowance win three months later at Belmont Park on a sloppy track when the race was taken off the grass. Then she moved up to grade I competition in the Mother Goose Stakes and finished a close second to Bushfire. She also ran a close second to Wonder Lady Anne in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) before taking the Alabama and Gazelle.
"This is all new to her; she's never shipped and run before; there's a lot of activity around here," said McGaughey of Pine Island's first Breeders' Cup experience. "She's stepping it up against older horses, so we'll just have to wait and see. I thought she trained as good as she could this morning (Friday) and got over the track good. That was my main concern. Sometimes you come in here, and horses don't really like Churchill. But I thought she handled it very, very well."
Matlacha Pass, the dam of Pine Island, is a full sister to last year's longshot Distaff winner Pleasant Home.
Pine Island's "looks are along the lines of Pleasant Home; she's big, and Pleasant Home was big," McGaughey. "But her (4-year-old) half-sister Chili Cat (by Storm Cat) is little."
Looking ahead to the Distaff, McGaughey said: "She's got the two post; they'll outrun her the first part of it. There will be some pace, and then I think there will be some middle moves, and then I think there will be some that will be coming late. I would just like to see her in some sort of position around the second turn to where he (jockey Javier Castellano) can maybe get her out at the head of the stretch where she would have a run at them. Her age shouldn't be a disadvantage this time of year. The one thing to her disadvantage is that she hasn't run a whole lot. She's really settled in great, but when I got here yesterday, she was all eyes because there were a lot of things happening. But she's got a great mind, so it's not like she wants to do something stupid."