2006 Breeders' Cup Preview: Distaff
by Trevor Whenham - 11/01/2006
The Distaff is a magical race. In the 1995 version at Belmont, the race was unlike anything we have seen at the Breeders' Cup. Stablemates Heavenly Prize and Inside Information were an entry, and at 4/5 they were clearly the class of the field. Inside Information was the better horse, with six wins in seven starts, but not by much. Or so it seemed. Inside Information moved to the lead on the backstretch, and the race was over. The mare pulled away to win by 13 1/2 lengths and her jockey had to do nothing to earn the victory. Heavenly Prize closed hard to end up second. It was, and remains, the largest margin of victory in the history of the Breeders' Cup, and it was as dominant as a horse race can be.
That was a huge win, and huge wins are the story in the Distaff. The four biggest margins of victory in Breeders' Cup history have all been in the Distaff. If you are looking for a horse to run away with the race this year, the likely candidate would seem to be Fleet Indian. The five-year-old daughter of former Kentucky Derby contender Indian Charlie has an eight-race winning streak stretching back more than a year. She won five of those eight races by five lengths or more. Until her last race Fleet Indian had settled in on the lead, or close to it, and dominated the field. She was unable to do that in the Beldame, but how she overcame her rough run was probably her most impressive and inspiring result. She got caught in fourth, had to move four wide to find room to move, took the lead, then held off a very strong charge from Balletto, who she will face again in this race. We hadn't seen how she would respond to a strong challenge after a race that hadn't gone her way. The results make her a justified favorite.
If you're determined to look past Fleet Indian, your eyes will likely land on Pine Island. She's only three, and she only started for the first time in March, but she has quickly put together an impressive resume. She has four wins in six starts, and the two losses were in her first two tries with Grade 1 company. She was less than a length behind the leader both times. Her Beyer rating has climbed in each race, and she appears ready to put her best effort forward yet. In her brief career, she has the ability to stalk the pace, or to come from off of it if she has to. She's a fighter, and it seems like it would be a mistake to leave her out of your exotic plays.
Beyond those two you might want to resort to a dartboard, because there isn't much to choose between a lot of them. There are a lot of very good horses, but none that emerge without flaws. There will be lots of speed pushing Fleet Indian. Bushfire, Healthy Addiction, Pool Land and Round Pond will all be looking for a piece of the front. With that much pressure up front, it will be a question of class - horses that can't hack the pace will be in trouble. Pool Land and Bushfire look to me to be in trouble if a pace battle erupts. Round Pond, trained by Michael Martz, the man who brought us Barbaro, was a solid third in Fleet Indian's Beldame win. She tired in the stretch, though, and can't afford to do that again. Getting pushed on the front to start won't help.
If it weren't for her last start in the Spinster, Spun Sugar would be hard to ignore. The filly, trained by Todd Pletcher, as Fleet Indian is, had an absolutely disastrous outing in the race at Keeneland, however. She traveled just off the pace for most the race, but completely dissolved when asked to make a move. She finished a well beaten eighth. The obvious target for blame is the new Polytrack surface at Keeneland, which she clearly didn't handle well at all. I'm skeptical beyond that, though - she faltered two races before that on the dirt at Belmont, too, and I'm not convinced she has the consistency or the heart to stand up under the assault of this race. The winner of that Spinster, Asi Siempre, is also suspect. The win, her first against Grade 1 company, seemed very much to be a product of the surface, and there is little in her past that makes me think she can replicate it.
Balletto, the horse that almost beat Fleet Indian, presents a handicapping challenge. On one hand, she showed she can compete with the best of the division and her hard closing style should be set up perfectly by all the pace up front. On the other hand, she missed all of the 2005 season, and she hasn't won a race since October of 2004. With four seconds and a third in her last five outings, you have to wonder why she hasn't been able to climb to the top of the podium.
As with all Breeders' Cup races, there are lots of longshots to choose from if you are looking for a big payout. One of the more interesting is Hollywood Story. The five year old is generally uninspiring, but she occasionally surprises with a huge victory against good competition. She did it in the Grade 1 Vanity in July, a victory that was book-ended by dismal fourth place finishes before and after. You can't really see anything in her form to make you think she is ready to explode here, but you never do with her. She's obviously not worth betting the house on, but she'd pay well if she hit your exotic ticket.