Dandy Distaffers - By Evan Hammonds

The last two weekends of Thoroughbred racing in the U.S. have been a moveable feast, showcasing the best of our sport. The eight grade 1 races on the Belmont Park program June 8, including the third leg of the Triple Crown, had a “Breeders’ Cup” feel to it. That was followed June 15 by the five graded stakes card at Churchill Downs, highlighted by the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) won by Seeking the Soul.

The Foster offered a stirring finish, but so, too, did the prior race, the $250,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) for older fillies and mares. Half of the cast—three of the six—were headliners in their own right. The winner, Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Elate, took the nine-furlong event by a measured 1 1/2 lengths under Jose Ortiz and earned her first win since the rich grade 2 Delaware Handicap last July. A two-time grade 1 winner in 2017, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro seems to be rounding back to the form that saw her go off the 2-1 favorite in the 2017 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Del Mar.

Merriebelle Stable’s Blue Prize, winner of last year’s Fleur de Lis and last fall’s Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1), finished second, edging She’s a Julie by a head. She’s a Julie, winner of the La Troienne Stakes Presented by Inside Access by Chase (G1) on Derby weekend, was the 124-pound highweight, toting four more than the pair that finished in front of her. She races for Carrol Castille’s Whispering Oaks Farm, Jay Hanley’s Team Hanley, Tim and Anna Cambron, Bradley Thoroughbreds, and Sol Kumin and Jason Monteleone’s Madaket Stables.

All three figure to be among the elite runners in a deep distaff division. The older filly and mare set is often the most stable—and contentious—division during the second half of the season as the best females tend to stay in training at least through their 4-year-old year. She’s a Julie is 4 while Elate is 5 and Blue Prize, born on Southern Hemisphere time in Argentina, is 6. We look forward to seeing them come together again later this summer and into the fall.

They’ll have company to which we say, “bring it on.”

In New York on June 8, Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables, and Allen Racing’s Midnight Bisou was an easy winner of the Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) at a one-turn 1 1/16 miles. The win was her fourth in a row on the year and includes a one-length defeat of Elate in the March 16 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park and a nose win in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) in which Elate was third. She has experience over the main track at Santa Anita—the host site of the Breeders’ Cup—with scores in three graded stakes, including the Santa Anita Oaks (G1).

And there’s more. Monomoy Girl, who ruled the roost last year over the 3-year-old filly division and older group in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Midnight Bisou was third; Blue Prize fourth), has been recovering from a bout of colic at WinStar Farm in Central Kentucky and has returned to jogging there, according to racing manager Liz Crow. Should things progress as planned, she could return to racing by September, which would give her time to prep for the Nov. 1-2 World Championships in Southern California. Last year Monomoy Girl held a 3-1 edge over Midnight Bisou in their head-to-head meetings.

And, for good measure, add in 3-year-olds Guarana, a stunning winner of Belmont’s Acorn Stakes (G1); and Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Serengeti Empress. Both will have to step up into the Distaff arena later in the fall.

A formful older filly and mare division is nothing new, and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff has delivered some of the World Championships’ most memorable moments from Personal Ensign/Winning Colors/Goodbye Halo in 1988 to Beholder/Songbird/Stellar Wind in 2016. This group appears to have the potential to be special as well.

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