Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic

With super-mare Havre de Grace attempting to follow in the footsteps of Zenyatta by  running in the Classic rather than the Ladies’ Classic and Blind Luck likely retired, the appeal of the Ladies’ Classic turns to the three-year-old fillies. The sophomore fillies have battled it out, either defeating each other by narrow margins or dominating each other. The Ladies’ Classic will likely decide the filly that will be awarded the Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year-Old Filly.

1. Plum Pretty: The Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner is returning to the place of her greatest victory. Just like the Oaks, the Ladies’ Classic will be run over a mile and one-eighth on the Churchill Downs main track. The filly, who worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 on October 24, will likely be the favorite for the Ladies’ Classic.

The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro kicked off her career on October 27, 2010 in a maiden race at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park, winning by a head. At the beginning of her three-year-old year, Plum Pretty finished third in both the Santa Ynez Stakes (GII) and Las Virgenes Stakes (GI) at Santa Anita. Then came an absolute monster performance. In her final prep for the Kentucky Oaks, the bay filly won the Sunland Park Oaks by an incredible 25 lengths.
Sent off as the fourth choice in the Kentucky Oaks, Plum Pretty lasted in the final yards to win by a neck despite a rough start. Next time out, Plum Pretty finished second to Zazu, who I believe is the best three-year-old filly in the country, in the Hollywood Oaks (GII).
Her trainer, Bob Baffert, then brought her out to the East Coast. Plum Pretty finished a game second to It’s Tricky, who would become her rival, in the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) before her start in the mile and one-quarter Alabama Stakes (GI), in which she tired to finish fourth.
Then came a resurgence. In the Cotillion Stakes (GII) at Parx Racing, Plum Pretty defeated her rival It’s Tricky by 7 ½ lengths. It could be described as a monster performance. We all know what Plum Pretty did last time after a monster performance: she won the Kentucky Oaks.
2. It’s Tricky: Not all horses fit their name, but It’s Tricky does. The daughter of Mineshaft is known for her tricky behavior. She bites, she kicks, and she even throws her jockey off before being led into the winner’s circle. However, she is extremely talented on the track.
Out of graded stakes-winning Catboat, It’s Tricky wheeled off three wins at Aqueduct at the beginning of her career, including the Busher Stakes. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin then shipped her to Gulfstream Park in Florida to run in the Gulfstream Oaks (GII). It’s Tricky didn’t have it that day and finished fourth.
She returned to New York, making her first start in two months in the TVG Acorn Stakes (GI) on Belmont day. She impressed many that day, defeating Turbulent Descent on a muddy track by nearly four lengths. In the CCA Oaks, she made it two wins in a row, defeating Plum Pretty by three-quarters of a length.
After those two wins came two second place finishes. McLaughlin has been working the filly at the half-mile distance. In her most recent breeze, It’s Tricky turned in an official time of 49.43 at Belmont Park. The filly will face a tough task in the Breeders’ Cup, but she is always one to watch out for.
3. Royal Delta: The three-year-old daughter of grade three-winner Delta Princess is coming into the Breeders’ Cup after a crushing defeat in the Beldame Invitational Stakes (GI). However, she won’t be a long shot. The horse that beat her by 8 ¼ lengths last out was Havre de Grace. Royal Delta still ran her race and finished second, crossing the wire nearly six lengths ahead of the third place-finisher.
Royal Delta broke her maiden on October 30, 2010 as a two-year-old, winning by 12 lengths. She began 2011 at Tampa Bay Downs in March in the Suncoast Stakes, running a very disappointing ninth. She rebounded a month later in an allowance at Keeneland, drawing away by three lengths for the victory. Then the filly by Empire Maker made herself known. The day before the Preakness, she won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (GII) by 2 ½ lengths despite drifting towards the rail.
After missing the Mother Goose Stakes (GI) due to a foot bruise, Royal Delta returned in the CCA Oaks. She was no match for It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty that day and finished third. Trainer Bill Mott believed that she’d run too far off the pace.
It all changed in the Alabama a month later. Sent off at odds of 5-1, Royal Delta exploded in the stretch to win by 5 ½ lengths despite lugging in sharply in reaction to the whip. Her second place finish in the Beldame followed that dominating win.
However, I worry that Royal Delta’s win in the Alabama was exaggerated. The distance of a mile and one-quarter was farther than any of the fillies had traveled. The final quarter of a mile in that race was 26.08, a very slow time. Royal Delta, by a Belmont Stakes winner and out of a mare that won route races on the turf, was likely more prepared than the other fillies to run the distance, mostly because of her breeding and because she was fresher than the others. She will need to give it everything she has come Breeders’ Cup weekend, but she seems to be capable of doing so.
4. Ultra Blend: This five-year-old California-bred mare has not finished off the board this year. However, her start in the Breeders’ Cup will be her only start outside of California. That is definitely something to worry about, but this mare seems to have plenty of talent.
Ultra Blend’s first start of the year was a third in the Sunshine Millions Distaff Stakes, in which she finished behind Evening Jewel and Amazing. She reeled off three consecutive wins after that: the first two in state-bred stakes and the third in the Milady Handicap (GII) , in which Ultra Blend got moved into first after St. Trinians was disqualified.
Her performance in the Milady began her journey in graded stakes races. Ultra Blend missed out on a win in the A Gleam Handicap (GII) when she rallied to miss by a nose to Irish Gypsy. Three weeks later, Ultra Blend showed everyone what she was made of by defeating a strong group of fillies and mares, including Zazu, in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI). Zazu got the best of her next time out in the Lady’s Secret Stakes (GI), but the John Sadler trainee is out of the Breeders’ Cup with shoulder inflammation.
Not only does Ultra Blend have talent, but she is an underdog. The five-year-old started off her career in claiming races before quickly climbing the ranks. It’s not often that a winner of state-bred stakes races goes on to win a grade one, let alone run in the Breeders’ Cup.

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