The cancellation of the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park on Sept. 15 due to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., has left some trainers scrambling to get their fillies and mares ready for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) on Oct. 27.
Top horses that planned on running in the Ruffian, but are now left to find other avenues included Beautiful Pleasure, the 1999 Distaff winner; Secret Status, last year's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner; grade I winner Critical Eye; and March Magic.
While most may take a break and await the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont on Oct. 6, or the Overbrook Farm Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland the following day, the connections of at least two are looking at other options.
One option is this Saturday's Turfway Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park. The $200,000 race at 1 1/16 miles was won last year by Spain, who later went on to shock the Breeders' Cup Distaff field at 55-1. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Spain was entered in the Ruffian, but had been under strong consideration to run in Northern Kentucky all along since she has been based at Churchill Downs. The winning favorite last year, Spain figures to rule the roost at Turfway again this year. A 4-year-old filly by Thunder Gulch, Spain has earned more than $2.3 million in her career and enters the Turfway Breeders' Cup off a fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. March Magic, winner of Monmouth Park's Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) in June is a possible shipper to Turfway after missing her start in the Ruffian.
Figuring to take on Spain in the Turfway Breeders' Cup is The Happy Hopper. The Bob Holthus-trained filly worked three furlongs in a blistering :34 at Churchill on Monday in her final prep. Winner of Arlington Park's Safely Kept Stakes on the Arlington Million undercard, At her best between seven furlongs and 1 1/16 miles, it would seem unlikely The Happy Hopper would be a strong candidate for the Distaff at 1 1/8 miles in New York.
A major main-track races on the horizon for those on the road to the Distaff contenders is the Cotillion Handicap (gr. II) for 3-year-old fillies at Philadelphia Park on Oct. 6. For the older set, the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Oak Tree on Sept. 29 at 1 1/16 miles; and the Arlington Matron Handicap (gr. III) at 1 1/8 miles on Oct. 6, join the nine-furlong Beldame and Spinster as the prime steppingstones.