A quick look at her pedigree suggests that Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's Yell should be able to run and thrive at racing's most demanding distances. However, it is the 3-year-old filly's success around one turn that has made her the morning-line favorite for Saturday's 18th running of the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff (gr. II).
The daughter of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy has the tradition-rich Rokeby Stable blood of the family of 1993 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Sea Hero on the dam's side of her pedigree. But after a season in which she challenged the best of her generation at two-turn distances, including a third-place finish to Bird Town in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), the best effort of the year by the Shug McGaughey-trained filly may have come in a sharp win at seven furlongs in the Raven Run (gr. III) at Keeneland on Oct. 10.
"We thought all summer that she'd probably like to go further--and the further the better," said Buzzy Tenney, the longtime assistant trainer to McGaughey who accompanied Yell to Churchill Downs for the Distaff. "The Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) was a big disappointment. She was an ordinary kind of fourth with no finish in her race at all and Shug wanted to shorten up and see what happened."
Yell returned to a one-turn distance when she faced older fillies and mares in seven-furlong Ballerina (gr. I) at Saratoga on Aug. 23. She finished fourth to Harmony Lodge that day after she encountered traffic problems in the stretch, but was beaten by just 2 1/4-lengths under new jockey Pat Day.
"About the eighth pole, Pat got her to the outside and she really got to finishing up good," Tenney said. "That kind of took us to the Raven Run and she ran a very good race there."
Her stretch-running 2 1/2-length romp in the Raven Run led McGaughey and Tenney to look back to Kentucky for the one-turn mile Churchill Downs Distaff. The distance and race's timing were attractive, as was the memory of Yell's strong effort in the Kentucky Oaks.
"She ran a very good race here in the Oaks," said Tenney. "She kept digging in and trying. So you'd like to think she'll like the racetrack here and hopefully the one-turn mile will be perfect for her."
Tenney, who has worked as a McGaughey assistant for 18 years, said the Distaff would likely be Yell's final race of the year. He hopes her current visit to Kentucky is just as successful as her last stop in the Commonwealth, although it certainly will not be as emotional. The win in the Raven Run by Yell allowed Claiborne Farm to become the first owner in Keeneland history to be awarded the track's "Gold Bowl." Claiborne earned the honor with its eighth graded stakes victory at the Lexington track and Waddell Hancock, Claiborne's 89-year-old matriarch, was on hand to accept the special honor.
"It was special for the Hancocks and really special for me," said Tenney. "I started working with horses at Claiborne Farm. So I've been good friends with Seth and the whole Hancock family for a long time. Personally it was very satisfying and a lot of fun."