Distaff Preview: The Big Check

View a list of Breeders' Cup Distaff pre-entries . . .

That collective gasp was the connections of the other Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) entrants when owners Aaron and Marie Jones decided to pony up the $400,000 to supplement Riboletta. The big check they wrote changed the whole complexion of the race.

Brazilian import Riboletta has won her last six starts impressively by a combined 26 3/4 lengths. But because she wasn't nominated to the Breeders' Cup -- and being Brazilian-bred why would she have been -- her owners had to make a huge decision.

General wisdom is that Riboletta has already sewn up the Eclipse Award for older filly or mare. Running in the Distaff could only cost her the trophy.

Certainly one incentive to run is that the majority of supplemental monies are now added to the gross purses. But, with five grade I wins to her credit, what else does Riboletta have to prove?

Only that her owners are sporting, wanting to be present on racing's biggest day.

Perhaps now it is Beautiful Pleasure, last year's Distaff winner and subsequent champion, who has more on the line Nov. 4. With Riboletta having beaten Beautiful Pleasure in their only meeting, the Oct. 14 Beldame (gr. I), the championship vote could swing back in her favor should she beat Riboletta in the Distaff.

The dilemma for those facing Beautiful Pleasure is the same as it always has been. Run with her early and you compromise your chances. Let her steal away and you have no chance of beating her.

Heritage of Gold finished third in last year's Distaff and has beaten Beautiful Pleasure twice this year, in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) in April and the Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) in July. Since then, however, Heritage of Gold has run third (placed second) in the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) and a non-threatening fourth in the Three Chimneys Spinster Stakes (gr. I).

One serious threat may be Jostle, although she is a 3-year-old who has yet to run against older fillies and mares. Four times, 3-year-old fillies have won the Distaff, but each had previously competed against older fillies and mares, or in the case of Dance Smartly, trounced males: Sacahuista (1987) had won the Spinster; Dance Smartly (1991) won the Canadian Triple Crown; Hollywood Wildcat (1993) took the Lady's Secret; and Ajina (1997) was second in the Beldame.

Still, Jostle comes off three easy wins in the Cotillion (gr. II), Alabama (gr. I), and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), making her a serious contender.

There are several other 3-year-olds in the race, two of whom have beaten older fillies and mares. Plenty of Light won the Spinster at Keeneland in easy front-running fashion, and Spain, who ran third in Jostle's Alabama, won the Turfway Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) before finishing second in the Spinster.

Spain is one of two 3-year-old fillies from trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the other being last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) third-place finisher, Surfside (who is out of 1994 Juvenile Fillies winner Flanders). Surfside, a multiple grade I winner early in the year, returned from a six-month layoff to run second in her Breeders' Cup prep, the Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 11.

An intriguing runner is group I winner Crimplene, who in 15 starts, has made all but one on turf. Having soundly defeated other 3-year-old fillies, then older fillies and mares, she made her last two starts against colts in top competition. Crimplene finished fourth in the Jacques le Marois (Fr-I) at Deauville two starts back, then ran eighth in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot, a race in which Giant's Causeway -- who goes in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) -- ran second.

View a list of Breeders' Cup Distaff pre-entries . . .