It's now or never. The two major preps for the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) are this weekend in Kentucky and New York, and it's time for those seeking a berth in the Distaff to deliver or pack it in.
On Saturday, all eyes will be on Belmont and the running of the Beldame Stakes (gr. I). On Sunday, the focus shifts to Keeneland's opening weekend and the Overbrook Spinster Stakes (gr. I). Both races are run at 1 1/8 miles: the same distance as the $2-million Distaff.
History is on the side of runners coming out of these two key races. Of the 17 previous Distaff winners, 12 of them made their last start in either the Spinster or Beldame. Last year's 55-1 winner, Spain, ran second in the Spinster and is one of eight Distaff winners to prep at Keeneland. Beautiful Pleasure, who is scheduled to run in the Beldame, won the '99 version on her way to Breeders' Cup glory and an Eclipse Award. Ajina ('97), Personal Ensign ('88), and Lady's Secret ('86) all took the Beldame path to the Distaff.
In New York, filly sensation Flute will make her first start against older rivals in the Beldame. The Bobby Frankel-trained daughter of Seattle Slew is a lock for championship honors for her division and will be the clear-cut favorite Satuday. Flute has been nothing short of sensational in her brief six-race career, winning the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) this spring, both with authority.
In the Spinster, Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) winner Pompeii appears to be the main contender for new trainer Elliott Walden. Walden, who won last year's race with Plenty of Light, took over the training of Pompeii after she was purchased privately by WinStar Farm. Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens has been named to ride. Local threat Vivid Sunset, stablemate of Beautiful Pleasure, will defend her unbeaten streak at Keeneland on Sunday. Other key players are a pair of West Coast imports: Printemps, a Chilean-bred 4-year-old trained by Ron McAnally who won the Hawthorne Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park; and Lazy Slusan, a multiple grade I winner trained by John Dolan.
In other Distaff developments, Verne Winchell's Fleet Renee will train up to the Distaff according to trainer Michael Dickinson. The daughter of Seattle Slew's last start was a tiring third-place finish in the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont on Sept. 8. Chasing a wicked pace while three wide sealed her fate in the 1 1/16-mile Gazelle, but if anyone can get a horse to their peak off a rest, it's Dickinson. The Maryland-based trained proved it with Da Hoss in the 1998 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT).
Joseph Graffeo's 3-year-old filly Two Item Limit, in training at Saratoga, is preparing for a run at the Distaff. While she hasn't won since taking the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) at Pimlico on Preakness weekend, she has knocked heads with the top of her generation. The late-running daughter of Twining rallied for second in the Gazelle, and with the strong pace scenario shaping up in the Distaff, she can't be dismissed from picking up some pieces late.
Tranquility Lake, runner-up in her bid to repeat in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes (gr. IT) at Santa Anita last weekend, appears headed to the Distaff instead of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). More accomplished on turf, trainer Julio Canani is leaning toward the main track for what is likely the final start for Marty and Pam Wygod's fleet mare. The front-running daugther of Rahy has made only one dirt start since 1999, and that was a three-length win in the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr.II) at Del Mar this summer. The tried-and-true turf-to-dirt angle comes into play here.
Zonk, winner of the Delaware Oaks back on July 21 and the stakes-winning Mystic Lady (2nd in the Oaks) square off in this Saturday's Cotillion Handicap (gr. II) at Philadelphia Park. It would take a monster effort by either one to see them taking a shot at the Breeders' Cup.