Spain, last year's Distaff winner, made a huge step forward in her last start, a game third behind Exogenous and Flute in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I). Making her third start off an extended layoff, the daughter of Thunder Gulch challenged Flute on the turn and didn't let go. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner of the Distaff, will wheel her right back into the fray. She won last year's Distaff off a runner-up effort in the Spinster as a 3-year-old.
Well, it's all over now but the shouting. The preps have been run. The pre-entry forms have been filled out, mailed, faxed, or stuffed into the Breeders' Cup ballot box. All that is left now is for trainers to make their final preparations for the $2-million Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).This year's race still appears to be one for the younger set, with the strongest hand held by the 3-year-olds. Juddmonte Farm's Flute, Verne Winchell's Fleet Renee, and Centaur Farm's Exogenous all have a pair of grade I wins in their hip pocket, with at least one of them coming in New York. Flute, with a win in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Alabama (gr. I) is the lone one of the bunch with a win over the Belmont surface.Other 3-year-olds are lurking in the wings as well. Joseph Graffeo's Two Item Limit, second behind Exogenous in the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I), is a strong closer and could be the one to pick up the pieces late should the pace scenario be strong. The diminutive daughter of Twining has been training at Saratoga for trainer Steve DiMauro and figures to be big price on World Thoroughbred Championships Day. Fleet Renee, winner of the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland and Belmont's Mother Goose (gr. I), will also train up to the Distaff on works alone at trainer Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in Maryland."She gets two hours of turn out every day," Dickinson said of his prized Seattle Slew filly. 'After her first start, she came back to the farm a little cranky as horses will do after time under pressure. We started her on the turn out and everything has been fine since."Starrer, a good second in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland is another 3-yaer-old that could make some noise. Well-regarded earlier in the year, a gate mishap in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), may have set her back a step or two, but she now seems headed in the right direction for trainer David Hofmans.Of the older set, West Coast invader Tranquility Lake figures to be the best of the lot. Likely to be pre-entered in both the Distaff and the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), the Julio Canani-trained mare could wind up being the lone speed in the race if she gets the chance. The Ackerley Brothers will have to be more than sporting to pony up $400,000 for the chance to run their Miss Linda. The Argentine-bred mare, not Breeders' Cup eligible, won the Spinster (gr. I) under Richard Migliore, and she'd have a big shot at an Eclipse Award should she land another big prize at the end of the year.One horse not to discount is Pompeii, winner of the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, but a non-factoring fifth in the Spinster. Making her first start for trainer Elliott Walden, Pompeii wouldn't be the first horse not to take to the Keeneland surface, then bounce back with a change of scenery.