Bentley Smith is well-connected when it comes to Breeders’ Cup horses. As the son-in-law of the late Frances Genter, he managed Frances Genter Stable for nearly 30 years and sent Smile to a 1986 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) victory – and, of course, watched Unbridled win the Classic (gr. I) in 1990.
He even bred two Breeders’ Cup starters – Baghdaria, who was seventh in the 2006 Emirates Airlines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I), and Solvig, who ran fourth in the 2001 Emirates Airlines Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT).
But his best shot at winning one of the championship races may come this year, in the form of Distaff competitor Lady Joanne. Named after Smith’s second wife, Joan, and by 2002 TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Orientate out of Smith’s homebred Unbridled mare Oatsee, the 3-year-old filly has hit the board in all 10 starts, posting six wins along the way. Her victories include four stakes in the care of trainer Carl Nafzger, topped by this year’s running of the Alabama (gr. I) at Saratoga.
Lady Joanne was third in her Sept. 20, 2006 debut at Turfway Park, but broke her maiden in record-setting time and by a margin of 6 1/2 lengths in her next start at Keeneland. She ran third when Nafzger moved her up to the Pocahontas (gr. III) at Churchill, but came back with a strong three-race winning streak in the Golden Rod (gr. II), a strong allowance, and the Dogwood Stakes (gr. III). That streak was halted by a second-place finish behind Octave in the Mother Goose (gr. I), but the filly rebounded for back-to-back wins in the Banshee Breeze and Alabama. She has never suffered subsequent losses.
Lady Joanne worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 over a fast track at Churchill Downs Oct. 22, with Nafzger reporting that the filly “did it very relaxed and galloped out good.” She will jog at Churchill Oct. 23 and is slated to ship to Monmouth Park later that day, with an Oct. 24 planned arrival.
A solid competitor who likes to set the pace or sit just off it, Lady Joanne is proven at various distances, from six to ten furlongs. She’ll face tough competition from the likes of Ginger Punch, Balance, Panty Raid, Tough Tiz’s Sis, and Unbridled Belle in the Distaff, but her pedigree and past performances point to her as the likely favorite when morning line odds are assigned Oct. 23.
Smith turns 85 on Nov. 16. If Lady Joanne lives up to her record she stands a very good chance of giving him his first Breeders’ Cup win. It would be the perfect way to make this dedicated horseman proud – and would make a nice early birthday present as well.