Timeform US Breeders' Cup Preview: Can Close Hatches revert to form in the Distaff?


Note: This piece is excerpted from an analysis of ALL 13 Breeders' Cup races, previewing every one of them in the style you see below.

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The Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita

Santa Anita / October 31 / Race 9 / 4:35 PDT

by TimeformUS Analyst Justin Finch

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Most Likely Winner: Close Hatches

The Breeders’ Cup Distaff has 11 fillies and mares going a mile and 1/8 on the main track. The morning line favorite is Untapable at 5-2, with Close Hatches the second choice at 3-1. Our feeling is that Untapable will go off at lower odds than her morning line and that Close Hatches will go off at odds that look very much like her morning line. In a close call, we feel that Close Hatches is the most likely winner.

From a pace perspective (as well as from several other perspectives), the Distaff is a fascinating race. The horses will get a good run to the first turn, which tends to discourage “send from the gate” instructions, instead putting a premium on the riders’ ability to adjust to the break and the early pace.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, Close Hatches will be on a clear early lead. Potentially, this has immense significance, as trying to run down a loose-on-the-lead Close Hatches is nobody’s idea of an ideal set-up. However, according to Chief Figure Maker Craig Milkowski’s pace analysis, the pace of the Distaff, while not projected to be destructive, does figure to be on the fast side. After all, both Tiz Midnight and Belle Gallantey are coming off strong frontrunning performances in Grade 1s, the Peruvian mare Valiant Emilia is a bit of a pace wild card, and Ria Antonia found some of her early speed in the Spinster. In short, if Close Hatches does indeed clear off in here, she figures to have earned it.

Now let’s look at the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

L’Amour de Ma Vie (15-1): European mare has some back speed figures that would play in here, but she comes in off a dull race in Italy, and she’s bucking a trend: Historically, Europeans have not had an easy time of it in this race. Moreover, she will be making her dirt debut with Breeding Ratings that are slanted in the extreme toward turf and synthetic.

Tiz Midnight (10-1): Just matched her lifetime-top speed figure of 104 in her gallant loss to Beholder in the Grade 1 Zenyatta. She would need a big new top to put a real scare into Untapable and Close Hatches. Got away with relatively tame pace figures (106 106 111) in the Zenyatta. If she is sent today from her inside post, she figures to be doing quite a bit more work early–work that could come at the expense of Close Hatches.

Iotapa (6-1): Broke slowly in the Zenyatta. Then she advanced to secure a stalking spot, but the damage was done. She reportedly bled, too. Quite a day. On a better day, over this racetrack back in June, she recorded a speed figure of 118 while romping in the Grade 1 Vanity. She is 3 for 7 over this racetrack, and she is capable of running her race from off the pace. But the fact is that she has run 13 times, and the only time she ran fast enough to compete with Untapable and Close Hatches at their best was when she was able to control the pace. We do not see her controlling the pace in here.

Belle Gallantey (6-1): This mare really seems to enjoy the cooking in the Rudy Rodriguez barn. Now has two Grade 1 victories to her credit. Rodriguez gets a rating of only 63 with older stakes horses, but he gets an 86 with circuit-switchers. He has no record at all at Santa Anita. We don’t love the chances that Rodriguez is going to be able to ship into Santa Anita for a Breeders’ Cup race and get the new top that his mare will need to win this race, but Rodriguez has transformed Belle Gallantey into a beautifully consistent mare. Five of her last six speed figures have been within three points of 105.

Unbridled Forever (20-1): Her speed figures are too slow, and the Race Ratings of her recent races are too low.

Stanwyck (20-1): Seems headed the wrong way, and even a reversal of form and matching her career-best race would not get it done against this company.

Don’t Tell Sophia (5-1): You have to respect a deep closer who is 11 for 22 lifetime. Got a good pace set-up (race fractions and pace figures color-coded in red denote a fast pace) in the Grade 1 Spinster and capitalized on it in fine fashion, earning a speed figure of 108, which is one point off her lifetime top. Her trainer has no record at Santa Anita, but he gets a strong rating of 92 off his short sample of third-off-the-layoff starters. The bad news is that asking a six-year-old to run a lifetime top is asking a lot. The good news is that if Don’t Tell Sophia gets a pace meltdown here and Untapable, for whatever reason, doesn’t fire, then Don’t Tell Sophia can win this race without running a new top. But there are a lot of moving parts to this scenario. So we’d demand odds quite a bit higher than 5-1.

Valiant Emilia (20-1): Peruvian mare gets ambitious here off a layoff of 131 days. Her trainer, Gary Mandella, gets a rating of 25 off of comparable layoffs. Pass.

Ria Antonia (15-1): Took the worst of it on the hot pace in the Spinster. For her trouble, she received a “pace upgrade” of 5 points on her speed figure. This gave her a speed figure of 110, which constitutes a 12-point lifetime top. This is the kind of jump that often begets a reaction.

Untapable (5-2): 7 for 10 lifetime. Three Grade 1 victories to her credit. A top speed figure of 114. A bankroll of almost 1.9 million. This is quite a filly. And she arrived in California early and has looked every bit like a horse who is sitting on a top effort for a trainer who gets a strong rating of 89 with comparable spacing between races. However, Untapable is going to be a short price, and, her splendid workouts notwithstanding, we are having a hard time shaking the feeling that she has been merely “holding on” since her brilliant Kentucky Oaks performance. A filly of this caliber can win almost any race while merely “holding on,” but if Close Hatches reverts to top form in this race, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff may prove to be the exception.

Close Hatches (3-1): Magnificent filly enters this race off a sub-par effort in the Spinster. What does “sub-par” mean for her? She went off at odds of 1-5, duelled through blistering pace figures of 137 136 and 125, and faded to finish fourth, earning a speed figure of 107, the same figure Untapable earned while winning a Grade 1 at Parx. Our inclination is to forgive off efforts from top-of-the line fillies as long as everything that happens after the off effort seems in order. And that would seem to be the case here. Bill Mott gave her two workouts in New York, and here she is in California, set to go after the real goal. Mott is no stranger to winning the Distaff. Close Hatches could conceivably clear off early against this field, which would be a big advantage over this track. But if that plan is thwarted by the speedsters to her inside (as we suspect will be the case), she is perfectly capable of stalking the pace in here. The trip we do not want to see her get is one that leaves her battling for the lead from the outside around the first turn. Such a trip, we feel, will leave her vulnerable to a late run from Untapable. In any event, Close Hatches is our selection.

The play:

Win bet on Close Hatches. Add Don’t Tell Sophia underneath in exotics.

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