The presence of two fillies with near impeccable credentials has kept the entry box light for Saturday's $150,000 Distaff Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at seven furlongs. Ogden Mills Phipps' Storm Flag Flying, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2002, will have her work cut out for her trying to run down Joseph Allen's Randaroo, who is four-for-five since being transferred to the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin.
Randaroo won the first three starts she made for the McLaughlin barn, the Safely Kept Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III), First Flight (gr. II), and Top Flight (gr. II) Handicaps. Her lone defeat for her new trainer came when she was shipped to California for the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) where she ran second behind Island Fashion.There is no disgrace in running second to Island Fashion, however, as she came back to take the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) and then ran second against the boys in the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).Randaroo, a 4-year-old Gold Case filly bred in Kentucky by Dennis Drazin, returned to prove that her La Brea was a strong effort when she crushed the field in the Shirley Jones Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park early last month by 7 1/4 lengths."I have been surprised with how well she has done," McLaughlin said. "This has been a fun run. She's done everything right."New York Racing Association's racing secretary, Mike Lakow, assigned Randaroo highweight of 121, meaning she will have to spot Storm Flag Flying three pounds. While McLaughlin cannot be thrilled about the spread, he is excited about how the Distaff sets up."Obviously, seven furlongs is her best distance," said McLaughlin, noting that Randaroo's only defeat at the distance came against Island Fashion. "She's two-for-two over the main track and she will be in front of Storm Flag Flying."Jockey John Velazquez rode both Randaroo and Storm Flag Flying in their last starts, but will be in Dubai on Saturday meaning both fillies will need new riders. Richard Migliore gets the mount on Randaroo and Edgar Prado will ride Storm Flag Flying."I have a lot of respect for Storm Flag Flying," McLaughlin said. "She impressed me a lot when she came back to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). It's been a long time since then, but if she's back to her best and we're at our best, we might be second best." Randaroo has been in steady training since January 2003, but McLaughlin does not see a vacation for the filly in the near future."We've given her plenty of time between races to keep her fresh," the trainer said. "She had six weeks from the La Brea to the Shirley Jones and six weeks from the Shirley Jones to this race. We're trying to get grade I status, so we're going to keep going while she's going good."Storm Flag Flying will be making just her second start in 265 days Saturday. Undefeated as a 2-year-old, the daughter of Storm Cat and My Flag ran into problems during her 3-year-old season with a hairline fracture and troublesome muscles in her hips. She lost both starts last year, but got back into the winner's circle at Gulfstream winning an optional claiming race as the 4-5 favorite last month. "That just goes to show the sportsmanship of Mr. Phipps and Shug's patience," said Buzz Tenney, assistant to trainer Shug McGaughey. "A lot of other people would have retired her. There was nothing major wrong with her and they thought they could get her back to her best."Tenney admits that even though Storm Flag Flying will be getting weight from Randaroo, the race might fit Randaroo better."We're playing Randaroo's game going seven furlongs," Tenney said. "At least, she'll have a target to run at." Since Storm Flag Flying's arrival from Florida last week, Tenney has been impressed with how the filly is acting at Belmont."She has rarely, if ever, trained on the training track before, but she handled that fine," Tenney said. "Most of all, she hasn't been any trouble, she looks stronger and bigger." Steel Your Face Stables' Fit Performer is a nice mare, but will be tested for class in the Distaff Breeders' Cup. She won the Interborough and Carson Hollow over the winter and will be making her first start in graded stakes Saturday.Chirimoya, owned by Rising Graph Stable, finished behind Fit Performer in the Carson Hollow and will be trying graded stakes for the first time since she was fourth in the 2002 Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn.Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), $150,000, Aqueduct, 3-year-olds, and up, fillies and mares, seven furlongs, Saturday, March 25
PP, Horse, Jockey, Wgt.
1, Fit Performer, Julian Pimentel, 115
2, Storm Flag Flying, Edgar Prado, 118
3, Chirimoya, Pedro Cotto Jr., 110
4, Randaroo, Richard Migliore, 121