Spain, last year's winner, enters the Distaff while making her fourth start off a four-month layoff for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. A four-time winner of the Distaff, Lukas appears to have the 4-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch moving in the right direction at the right time. In her last start she lapped herself to Flute on the turn in the Beldame and fought hard every step of the way before coming up a head short of second place.Exogenous, the Beldame winner, apparently bumped with Spain down the lane, however no infraction was handed down by the stewards. The up-and-coming Exogenous (by '90 Classic winner Unbridled) has put in back-to-back monster efforts in winning the Gazelle and Beldame at Belmont Park. Historically it is difficult for 3-year-old fillies to maintain that edge over three starts. In the final analysis, a Tranquility Lake/Fleet Renee exacta is the opinion. If forced to play a trifecta, it would be those two over Flute, Spain, Pompeii, and Two Item Limit.
The Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) has the reputation of being the most formful race on racing's most important day. However, it is actually the Juvenile that has the lowest average winning payoff of $10.84 of the seven traditional races on the card. The Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) has only had two runnings, and should not be judged historically. The Distaff comes in second with an average winning payoff of $17.09; no doubt last year's $113.80 upset victory by Spain has done much to lift that average.Only one other longshot has landed the Distaff: One Dreamer ($96.20) in 1994. In the other 15 runnings of the 1 1/8-mile race, the favorite has won eight times, the second choice has won five, and the third choice has won two. While eight favorites winning in 17 attempts is a hefty 47% (favorites usually win 33% of stakes), it must be noted that no favorite has won the Distaff since 1995 when Inside Information crushed her rivals in the slop at Belmont Park, this year's site of the World Thoroughbred Championships.Juddmonte Farm's Flute figures to be the clear-cut choice on Saturday despite coming into the race off a loss. Her runner-up effort in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) should take little luster off her well-managed campaign this year where she has won the two most important races for 3-year-old fillies: the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes (both gr. I). One thing playing against her is the oh-fer her trainer Bobby Frankel carries to the World Thoroughbred Championships. His 0-for-36 streak has been well chronicled by the racing media and it is a streak that will likely come to an end this weekend. The big question is when. The guess is here he'll have to wait at least a half-hour (he will send out another favorite, You, in the following race, the Juvenile Fillies).The strongest candidate on paper is Tranquility Lake. The pace scenario for the race took on a whole new texture with the retirement of Beautiful Pleasure, and from scanning the past performances, it's Marty and Pam Wygod's 6-year-old mare that appears to be in the driver's seat. Trained by Julio Canani, Tranquility Lake was kept in training 2001 with this race being the ultimate goal.More accomplished on turf than dirt, Tranquility Lake is a proven performer on the main track on the West Coast. The daughter of Rahy is able to get a forward position, if not the lead, and will likely dictate the tempo with Spinster (gr. I) winner Miss Linda. However, Tranquility Lake has the proven talent of sustaining a mean middle move to put most opponents away. Based on final quarter and final eighth times, there doesn't seen to be horse in the race that has the overabundant propensity to finish strongly, which could leave Tranquility Lake to her own devices under the shadow of the Belmont grandstand. This includes Flute, however dazzling she's appeared, her best closing appearance came in her win at Saratoga on July 27 against allowance company.If there is one horse that can run her down late, it appears to be Fleet Renee. The 3-year-old daughter of Seattle Slew comes into the Distaff fresh, having not run since a tiring third-place finish in the Gazelle Handicap (gr .I) on Sept. 8. Only three fillies have won the Distaff with more than a four-week break between starts: Dance Smartly ('91; seven weeks); One Dreamer ('94; six weeks); and Escena ('97; 10 weeks). Fleet Renee, a Verne Winchell homebred, has been training at Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in Maryland and had a final four-furlong breeze on Tuesday afternoon. She'll remain at the farm and not ship to Belmont until Friday morning.In the Gazelle, she was the victim of a sizzling second quarter in that 1 1/8-mile race, and was forced to remain three- to four-wide the entire trip. If she can settle off the pace under regular rider John Velazquez, and duplicate her "come home" time of the Mother Goose, she'll be a serious candidate.