The Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) has brought us some memorable showdowns between sophomore fillies and their more battle-tested elders, and this year's renewal figures to be no different. Juddmonte Farms' brilliant 3-year-old Flute, under the care of trainer Bobby Frankel is the pro-tem leader at this point off strong wins in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Alabama Stakes (gr. I). However, if she can hand her trainer his initial Breeders' Cup victory on Oct. 27, she'll have to do it against a strong contingent of older rivals in Pompeii, Beautiful Pleasure, Serra Lake, and perhaps Tranquility Lake.
The daughter of Seattle Slew will likely get to square off again against 3-year-old rival Fleet Renee. Also by Seattle Slew, and also a two-time grade I winner this year, Fleet Renee disappointed at 3-5 last Saturday in the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park, finishing a tiring third behind Exogenous and Two Item Limit. It's easy to red-board after the race, but the Michael Dickinson trainee didn't get the best of rides or trips Sept. 8. After prompting the pace while four-wide through quarters of :23.29, :22.51, and :23.88, there was little left in the tank at the three-sixteenths pole when she was challenged by Exogenous.
As for this weekend's racing, the major race is the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park. While racing is scheduled to resume Saturday for the race following terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the quality of the field for the Ruffian is in doubt.
While no single older filly or mare has emerged from the pack this summer, several East Coast runners seem to be moving in the right direction heading toward bigger races in New York and Kentucky the first weekend of October. Pompeii, a recent purchase by WinStar Farm, paid instant dividends while defeating a gritty Beautiful Pleasure in the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga on Aug. 24. Now under the care of Elliott Walden, Pompeii (by Broad Brush) has been sent to Kentucky and will either go in the Overbrook Spinster Stakes (gr. I) on Oct. 7 at Keeneland or the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont the day before.
Beautiful Pleasure, champion older mare of 1999, has been racing back into shape for trainer John Ward. While she was defeated in the Personal Ensign, it was clearly a step in the right direction off her two previous starts this year. The turns at Belmont Park are also a little more conducive for her bearing-out antics, making her a threat for the Distaff.
With an abundance of pace-players, and we may add another one in West Coast terror Tranquility Lake should she opt for the dirt over the Filly & Mare Distaff (gr. IT), one threat looms in the form of Serra Lake. Yet another daughter of Seattle Slew, the Shug McGaughey-trained 4-year-old could be the one to pick up the pieces should the action on the front end be too demanding.