Ask any racing fan what race they view as the most competitive of this year’s Breeders’ Cup and there is a very good chance that their answer will be the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI). Featuring a field loaded with fillies and mares – including three champions that already have Breeders’ Cup triumphs to their credit – ready for the fight of their lives, this race could go down in the history books as one of the greatest Breeders’ Cup races to ever be run.
Photo by Terri Cage
The reigning victress of the Ladies’ Classic, Royal Delta began 2012 on a sour note, being soundly defeated in a graded stakes at Gulfstream prior to suffering a difficult journey and loss in the Dubai World Cup (GI). However, she returned to the United States with a flourish, running away with the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs by 8 lengths. Following a hard-fought victory in the Delaware Handicap (GII), Royal Delta finished second to Love and Pride in the Personal Ensign Stakes (GI) at Saratoga, resurging in the final stages of the race despite appearing seemingly done.
But next out, the champion proved her dominance. In the Beldame Invitational Stakes (GI), a race in which she’d been left in the wake of eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace last year, Royal Delta crushed the field – which included the grade one-winning It’s Tricky – by an astounding 9 ½ lengths. Treating the race like an everyday gallop, Royal Delta was kept under wraps by Mike Smith in the stretch.
When Royal Delta brings her A-game, the champion appears invincible. As the defending champion of the Ladies’ Classic, this is her race to lose and though she has never started over Santa Anita’s surface, she has a huge advantage with Mike Smith aboard. Without a doubt, she will have her work cut out for her amongst such remarkable opponents, but if she’s on her best game, Royal Delta will be difficult to beat.
One of three previous Breeders’ Cup champions in this race, Awesome Feather conquered the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Churchill Downs. Plagued by injuries, this undefeated filly has only raced four times since then. Altogether, Awesome Feather has captured these four victories by a combined 24 ¼ lengths.
Photo by Terri Cage
Awesome Feather’s only graded stakes victory among her four outings since her Breeders’ Cup triumph came in the Gazelle Stakes (GI) at Aqueduct last November, in which she defeated a field that included Love and Pride by 5 ¼ lengths. Following a dominant victory in the Florida Sunshine Millions Distaff Stakes, Awesome Feather was sidelined again, but returned in September in the Nasty Storm Stakes at Belmont. In stunning fashion, the Chad Brown trainee ran her flawless record to ten victories en route to a jaw-dropping 11 ¼-length romp in an impressive final time of 1:33.47 for one mile.
Over the past two years, Awesome Feather has been very lightly raced and has only contested against grade one company once. However, there is a certainly quality to this filly that makes her a very dangerous competitor: her sheer brilliance. I believe we do not yet know just how good Awesome Feather is.
My Miss Aurelia
A filly I have followed since her maiden, My Miss Aurelia is another undefeated champion entered in the Ladies’ Classic. Winner of last year’s Juvenile Fillies, My Miss Aurelia was sidelined due to injury following her spectacular win under the Twin Spires last November and, like Awesome Feather, has only been seen a handful of times since then. In fact, My Miss Aurelia has only raced twice since being crowned Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, having returned to the races this August.
|My Miss Aurelia|
Photo by Terri Cage
That return came in the Mandys Gold Stakes at Saratoga, which My Miss Aurelia won by 3 lengths going six furlongs. Next out, she faced Questing – who was coming off two spectacular grade one victories at the Spa – in the Cotillion Stakes (GI) at Parx. In a stirring stretch battle, My Miss Aurelia prevailed by a head to keep her undefeated record intact.
My Miss Aurelia is one of the most talented horses I have seen firsthand and I find it very impressive that she was able to reel in Questing in her second race after a layoff, though she did not carry as much weight. It is worrisome that My Miss Aurelia is entering the Breeders’ Cup off of such a tough race that was just her second since her return, but the filly appears to be in great condition. Another worry is that perhaps the nine-furlong distance of the Ladies’ Classic is a bit too far for her. However, this is My Miss Aurelia and I will never doubt her talent. It will be interesting to see how she fares against this star-studded field.
This Kiaran McLaughlin trainee began her career in the United Kingdom and following a fifth-place finish in last year’s Juvenile Fillies, Questing began her sophomore campaign with mediocre performances in allowance optional claiming events prior to an easy breakthrough win at that level.
Photo by Terri Cage
But then we saw the filly she had transformed into. Questing dived back into the grade one pool with a splash, galloping to an easy 4 ¼-length victory in the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) at Saratoga despite drifting out in the stretch. Proving that this was no fluke, Questing annihilated rivals next out in the Alabama Stakes (GI), running erratically in the stretch yet again but capturing the race by an imposing 9 lengths in an impressive final time of 2:01.29 for ten furlongs.
Questing fell a head short to My Miss Aurelia in her successive start, the Cotillion Stakes. Rather than setting the pace as she had in her past two victories, Questing settled off the leader and while carrying seven pounds less than My Miss Aurelia, she missed by a head after a gutsy stretch duel.
It seems that Questing has been forgotten since her winning streak was snapped, but this filly should certainly not be erased from memory. She is absolutely brilliant and can use her speed as a deadly weapon. As a filly with both speed and stamina, Questing will play a large role in the outcome of the Ladies’ Classic.
Love and Pride
A daughter of the great A.P. Indy, Love and Pride commenced 2012 on the right note, dominating a stakes at Aqueduct by 7 lengths. Following three defeats in graded company – two of which were runner-up finishes – Love and Pride broke through with her first graded stakes victory, winning the Obeah Stakes (GIII) by nearly two lengths over Tiz Miz Sue, who would give Royal Delta a run for her money next out in the Delaware Handicap. However, Love and Pride crossed the wire fourth in the “Del Cap.”
But she avenged that loss with her first grade one victory in her subsequent race, defeating Royal Delta by a half-length in the Personal Ensign Handicap (GI). However, it must be pointed out that Royal Delta was carrying ten pounds more than Love and Pride, who then shipped west for a trip around Santa Anita’s dirt oval, easily winning the Zenyatta Stakes (GI) by 3 ¼ lengths after setting the pace.
Love and Pride seems to be underestimated by many, but I give her a good chance in this race. After all, she is a dual grade one winner with a victory at Santa Anita already under her belt. However, the Ladies’ Classic will be a very tall task for her and she will have to pull out all the stops to secure a victory.
Include Me Out
Arguably the best female Thoroughbred on the West Coast this year, Include Me Out won her first three starts in 2012 – all of which came in graded stakes. Not only did one of these triumphs include a romp in the Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes (GI), but two of these victories came at Santa Anita.
After finishing second in the Vanity Handicap (GI) at Hollywood Park, Include Me Out displayed her determination with a conquest of the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) at Del Mar prior running third in the Zenyatta. But this loss should not be held against her, as Include Me Out has been tremendously consistent this year and has plenty of experience over the dirt track at Santa Anita. Despite the fact that she will be facing three champions and several other brilliant fillies and mares, Include Me Out should not be ignored.
One of the best two-year-old fillies in the nation last year, Grace Hall’s final start as a two-year-old resulted in a second-place finish behind My Miss Aurelia in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Following a narrow loss in her 2012 debut, Grace Hall romped in the Gulfstream Oaks (GII) in preparation for the Kentucky Oaks (GI), in which she finished third.
Grace Hall did not race for two months after the Kentucky Oaks, but returned with an easy win in the Delaware Oaks (GII). However, the filly finished fifth as the beaten favorite in the Alabama, crossing the wire 31 lengths behind Questing. But she then reverted to her dominant winning ways, capturing the Indiana Oaks (GII) by 5 ¾ lengths.
Grace Hall is certainly among the best in her division, but when pitted against the very best, she has failed to turn in her best performance. She is undoubtedly a gifted athlete capable of tremendous performances, but I do not believe she will win the Ladies’ Classic.
The Ladies’ Classic certainly has a plethora of suspense and excitement surrounding it, offering one of the best fields of the entire 2012 Breeders’ Cup. I can envision many outcomes to this race, as it has gathered one of the best groups I have ever seen in a Breeders’ Cup event. I will give the nod to Royal Delta, but certainly would not be surprised to see Awesome Feather, My Miss Aurelia, or Questing enter the winner’s enclosure following this race. In addition, I am expecting good performances from Love and Pride and Include Me Out and certainly will not forget about Grace Hall. Regardless of how this race plays out, I am surely looking forward to it and will revel in the presence of these spectacular fillies.