Filly & Mare Turf Story: Staying the Course

Filly & Mare Turf Story: Staying the Course
Photo: Mike Corrado
Banks Hill has an easy time winning the Filly & Mare Turf.
Published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Blood-Horse
Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms finally gets a Breeders' Cup victory as Olivier Peslier sees no one closing ground on the filly Banks Hill.

Prince Khalid Abdullah won his first classic race in 1980 in England. In the 20 years hence, he has developed his Juddmonte Farms breeding and racing operation into a major international force. The list of group and grade I winners is seemingly endless; trophy cases are adorned with the silver of the world's most prestigious races.

One trophy--that of a Breeders' Cup race--has proven elusive. The Breeders' Cup had been run 17 times through 2000, and Juddmonte had a total of 29 starters in 14 of those years. The quality, a trademark of Abdullah's stock, was there. But victory, for reasons that are the very nature of the Turf, was not.

The closest calls came last year at Churchill Downs. Honest Lady flew home in the Sprint (gr. I), only to fall a half-length short of eventual division champion Kona Gold, and Dansili devoured ground in the stretch to just miss winning the Mile (gr. IT) by a neck in a three-horse blanket finish. It wasn't meant to be, but there was more than a glimmer of hope. Next year. Maybe next year.

At the heart of the Juddmonte breeding program are well-planned matings--the mare must fit the stallion, and the stallion must fit the mare. Whether a pedigree is deemed fashionable by auction standards doesn't matter, because Abdullah doesn't breed to sell. He breeds to race and build upon his impressive broodmare band, the pedigree pages for which are contained in a leather-bound, gilt-edged book each year.

The mating of two Juddmonte-bred horses, multiple leading Australian sire Danehill and the mare Hasili, clicked with Dansili, a foal of 1996 who earned $570,686 and was named champion older male in England and France. In 1998, that sire and dam combination produced a filly that would be named Banks Hill. Three years later, on Oct. 27, she was able to do what her brother and 24 other individual runners could not: deliver Juddmonte a World Thoroughbred Championships trophy.

Quality and patience were finally rewarded. The fact that Banks Hill is a homebred made the victory in the $1,273,240 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) all the sweeter.

"The Breeders' Cup is well named," said Teddy Beckett, Juddmonte's European racing manager. "Prince Khalid is a true breeder and a lover of the breed. The Breeders' Cup means a lot--it means a lot to the farms in Europe and Kentucky. It certainly has been a major goal. It's the goal of any owner to win a Breeders' Cup race, but to breed and own a Breeders' Cup winner has been the Holy Grail. This means a tremendous amount to everyone at Juddmonte."

The $722,800 first-place check earned by Banks Hill further secured Juddmonte's top-three position on the lists of leading owner and breeder by money won this year. In Eclipse Award voting for 2000, Juddmonte finished second in the leading owner category, and third in the leading breeder tallies.

Banks Hill was one of six starters in the Filly & Mare Turf that have been based in Europe, so the 1 1/4-mile race was truly international. While a post-time temperature of 50 degrees, along with clouds and sometimes-stiff breeze, didn't hurt the travelers' chances, the condition of Belmont Park's inner turf course may have had an adverse effect on some of the fillies.

With very little rain in the New York City area for about a month, the course was firm. Many of the foreign fillies in the 12-horse field displayed a preference for moist ground, so it appeared, on paper at least, that perhaps the U.S.-based starters had an advantage. A closer look at the past performances, however, showed that one European had a fondness for grass without much give.

Banks Hill had posted three wins and three seconds in seven career starts, but her biggest win to date had come in the Coronation Stakes (Eng-I) June 22 at Royal Ascot. The course that day was rated firm, rather unusual for England, and Banks Hill relished it. When she found clearance in the one-mile fixture, she rapidly accelerated with a furlong to go and won rather easily by 1 1/2 lengths. Her rider that day was Frenchman Olivier Peslier, who has been aboard Banks Hill for her four first-place finishes.

The Filly & Mare Turf had the potential to closely resemble the Sept. 29 Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont in which the top three finishers were Lailani, England's Legend, and Starine. All three of those fillies faced the starter in the Filly & Mare Turf, and at post time they had drawn the most betting action. Though Lailani had won the Flower Bowl impressively in her first U.S. appearance, England's Legend was the slight favorite at 5-2. Lailani was next at a slightly higher 5-2, followed by Starine at 5-1. Banks Hill was the fourth choice at 6-1.

As expected, England's Legend assumed the early lead and nursed a one-length advantage through an opening quarter-mile in :24.21, and a half-mile in :48.65. Mot Juste, in from France, stalked the leader in second, while Banks Hill sat a golden trip just off the leaders along the rail. Starine and Lailani raced in close company in the second flight, and made their bids when the timer caught three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.55.

On the second of two turns, England's Legend raced off the rail, which left a sizable opening for Banks Hill. After a mile in 1:37.69, Banks Hill shot to the front from the inside and zoomed away to a five-length lead in midstretch. At the wire, she was in front by 5 1/2 lengths, and ran her final quarter-mile in less than 23 seconds. The odds board didn't foretell the order of finish, as longshots Spook Express, the South African-bred mare, rallied well for second, and Spring Oak, another filly based in France, secured third.

Edouard de Rothschild's England's Legend faded badly to finish 11th, and trainer Christophe Clement said he intended to have the filly scoped upon her return to the barn. It was a clearly uncharacteristic effort for England's Legend, who had won five of nine career starts going into the Filly & Mare Turf.

Sheikh Maktoum, who had success Oct. 27 as a principal in Godolphin Racing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), didn't fare well on his own in the Filly & Mare Turf. Lailani flattened out and finished eighth. Sheikh Mohammed's Mot Juste retreated and checked in last.

Fily & Mare Turf Chart, From Equibase

Continued...

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