She wasn't perfect, but she was a good bit closer to it than any of her rivals this year. Showing once again the resolute heart she'd displayed on five occasions since running sixth in this event last November, Perfect Sting stole away over the Churchill Downs turf to hijack the title of best grass filly or mare in 2000. And she did so in daring style, equaling a course record for the 11 furlongs in capturing the $1,108,360 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT).
The only flaw in the 2000 master plan mapped out by owner/breeder Frank Stronach and trainer Joe Orseno occurred in Perfect Sting's previous caper at Keeneland in October's WinStar Galaxy (gr. IIIT). Employing the dastardly kick that had carried her to four triumphs in as many tries, none by as much as a length, the Red Ransom filly ran up menacingly to the flank of Tout Charmant, readying to break yet another heart. Only this time she tripped an alarm and was forced to watch her rival steal the show.
That followed triumphs in the Beaugay (gr. IIIT), Just a Game Breeders' Cup (gr. IIIT), New York (gr. IIT), and Diana (gr. IIT) Handicaps. The margins were one-half, a nose, a head, and three-quarters, respectively. Clearly, Perfect Sting likes company, as long as it's just behind her.
It's a perfect crime that just one loss can turn the public off such a warrior, but it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world. Despite her sterling record, handicappers and gamblers jumped off Perfect Sting's bandwagon following the Galaxy, heading for the getaway car of European invader Petrushka, and not without reason. The 3-year-old Unfuwain filly stole across the big pond with three consecutive group I wins in three different countries--Ireland, Great Britain, and France. She is a striking chestnut as well, rangy and athletic-looking, and found onlookers whenever she traveled the barn area leading up to Breeders' Cup Day.
Her conditioner, Michael Stoute, hedged only slightly as he kept a constant eye on his charge walking the grass adjacent to Longfield Avenue outside his barn. "It is a difficult and long journey over here after a long European season," he asserted between drags on a cigarette. "But she's very adaptable and seems happy. The vibes are quite good."
So while most looked across the ocean for a new turf mastermind, it was left to Perfect Sting's Orseno to keep the faith, and he did. "You learn a lot in defeat," the Philly native stated outside his hideout a few days before the Breeders' Cup. "They outsmarted us and got away at Keeneland. Tout Charmant ran a monster race. You know, we had just lost the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. III) with Golden Missile because the jock moved prematurely. So I joked to Jerry Bailey not to move Perfect Sting too soon. He ended up waiting too long with her. But if they went ding-donging the last part and we took it all out of her in that race, where would we be now? My filly will run her race this time. She's awesome."
The running of the Filly & Mare Turf was a matter of intrigue right up to the springing of the gates. California's Julio Canani, who trained Silic to capture the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) last year, arrived with confirmed frontrunner Tranquility Lake in tow. Her running lines couldn't be simpler--if she made the lead, she won; if she didn't, she lost. She also arrived in Louisville, Ky., with a three-bagger of a win skein, most recently annexing the grade I Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita. Yet Canani insisted she could come from off the pace. "When they leave the gate he'll figure it out. I'm not telling Eddie Delahoussaye anything except 'Bon Voyage.' "
Orseno's plan was to have Perfect Sting sit just off Tout Charmant, whom he expected to flash speed early. Just as insurance, though, Orseno had another Stronach runner dressed and ready for the show. The sophomore Collect the Cash, who did just that in Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) a month earlier, runs her races up on the lead. "With Collect the Cash there will be a true pace," Orseno said. "She might spread the field a little and make it an honest race. But she's not in here to be a rabbit. She'll run her race. We believe Perfect Sting is better, but if Collect the Cash gets loose on the lead, she'll be tough herself. I hope she's the one Perfect Sting has to pass."
Bob Baffert, not one to be left out of any major racetrack proceedings, brought in the live longshot Caffe Latte. Like Tout Charmant, she is a mid-career purchase of Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable. Caffe Latte took honors in Del Mar's Ramona Handicap (gr. IT), and figured to be a late-mover from the rear of the pack. She drew unlucky into the outside 14 post, providing Baffert with material. "The speed drew to her inside," said the white-haired wonder. "The closers drew to her inside. Everyone drew to her inside. She's so far outside they don't cut the grass out there. She might be up to her knees in it." Continued. . . .