The Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf has a history of coming up strong and deep, and this year is no exception.
Consider that John and Joan Phillips' Wonder Again, the 3-year-old Silver Hawk filly that won the grade I Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles at Belmont Park Sept. 8, is expected to pass on this year's World Thoroughbred Championships.
Wonder Again, trained by James Toner, is four-for-five on the turf in her career. She will opt for the grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland Oct. 12, Toner said.
Even with Wonder Again looking to next year's Filly & Mare Turf, this year's race isn't lacking for quality. The top five in the latest World Thoroughbred Championships rankings are the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust's Astra, a four-time grade I winner who is 11 for 16 on the turf; Juddmonte Farm's Banks Hill, last year's Filly & Mare Turf winner; Gary Tanaka's Golden Apples, winner of the grade I Beverly D at Arlington Park Aug. 17; Exors of the late Lord Weinstock's Islington, winner of two group I events in England: the Aston Upthorpe Yorkshire Oaks and the Vodafone Nassau Stakes; and Edouard de Rothschild's England's Legend, third in the Beverly D and last year's Filly & Mare Turf favorite.
There were three divisional races Sept. 8: the Garden City, the grade II Palomar Handicap 1 1/16 miles on the grass at Del Mar, and the grade II (Canadian) Canadian Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Woodbine.
The Garden City, for 3-year-old fillies, serves more as a lead-in to the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup than the Filly & Mare Turf, and this year's race figures to do the same. The second- and third-place finishers, Riskaverse and Pertuisane, have the Keeneland race in their sights.
The Palomar winner, Green Hills Farm's Voodoo Dancer, won last year's Garden City. She's trained by Christophe Clement, who also saddled Calista to victory in the Canadian Handicap the same afternoon.
Not in the top five in the rankings but certainly one to watch is Janis Whitham's Affluent, a 4-year-old filly that won the grade I John C. Mabee/Ramona Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Del Mar July 27 in her last start. Trained by Ron McAnally, Affluent, who defeated Golden Apples in the Ramona, has three wins and a second in four grass starts.
Affluent won last year's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, passed on the Filly & Mare Turf, and then closed out her campaign with a victory in the grade I La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs on the dirt. The Ramona marked her first start of the year on the turf; her connections have been wavering as to whether she will race next on the dirt or turf.
One possibility for the Affirmed filly is Keeneland's WinStar Galaxy at 1 3/16 miles on the turf Oct. 4. Last year, the race was won by the ill-fated Spook Express, a South African-bred mare that came back to finish second behind Banks Hill in the Filly & Mare Turf.
Banks Hill, who won the Filly & Mare Turf by open lengths, finished a solid second behind 3-year-old colt Rock Of Gibraltar in the group I NetJets Prix du Moulin at Longchamp at a mile Sept. 8. Rock Of Gibraltar has now won a record seven consecutive group I races and is headed to Arlington for a Breeders' Cup appearance.
Banks Hill only lost to the colt by a half-length. Last year, she competed against the boys en route to her victory in the Filly & Mare Turf. She is expected to train up to the Breeders' Cup.