Updated September 20, 2018 - 5:52 pm
As I try to wrap my head about the upcoming Breeders’ Cup extravaganza — now just six weeks away — I often find my thoughts drifting to the islands.
Not the surf and trade winds kind, but the two stars of the Distaff division with names connected to land masses surrounded by water: Monomoy Girl, who I presume is named after Monomoy Island off Cape Cod, and Abel Tasman, named after the Dutch explorer who, as you no doubt remember, discovered the Australian island state of Tasmania in 1642.
Geography and history aside, the expected matchup between the sensational 3-year-old Monomoy Girl and her accomplished 4-year-old rival in the $2 million Longines Distaff is shaping up as one of the most anticipated among the 14 Breeders’ Cup races scheduled for Nov. 2-3 at Churchill Downs.
The Brad Cox-trained Monomoy Girl is a neck shy of being 9-for-9 in her career and is without a blemish this year with five straight graded stakes victories, four of them Grade 1 races. The daughter of Drumette is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s $1 million Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx race course, where she will again try to fend off fellow sophomore graded stakes winners Chocolate Martini, Dixie Serenade, Midnight Bisou, Separationofpowers and Wonder Gadot, among others in the 1 1/16th-mile race.
Abel Tasman, meanwhile, established her track cred last year, when she was took home the 3-Year-Old filly Eclipse Award after running first or second in all seven starts for trainer Bob Baffert. The daughter of Quality Road picked up where she left off this year and has won two straight Grade 1s, including a dogfight over fellow 4-year-old Elate in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 25.
With the recent retirement of Unique Bella, Elate may have the best chance of keeping the Distaff from turning into a two-horse race, as the multiple graded-stakes winner was beaten a neck by Abel Tasman in the Personal Ensign.
But the Daily Racing Form reported Wednesday that she will miss the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 6, which was to have been her final Breeders’ Cup prep, because of inflammation in her right foreleg. Trainer Bill Mott indicated she could train up to either the Classic or Distaff, but that’s not how you want to see a horse coming up to such a tough race.
Others who remain in the Distaff hunt include Blue Prize, winner of two straight stakes races at Churchill Downs; Eskimo Kisses, winner of the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga last month; and the German-bred La Force, runner up to Unique Bella in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar last out.
#RJhorseracing feature races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers also are focused on Parx this week, though not on the Cotillion. We’re taking on the $1 million Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, featuring some familiar faces from the Triple Crown trail, as well as the $100,000 Alphabet Soup Stakes on the turf on the undercard.
In the Alphabet Soup, a 1 1/16th mile stakes on the turf for Pennsylvania-bred 3-year-olds and up, the crowd ‘cappers are taking a stand with Fielder, 5-1 on the morning line, over 5-2 favorite Fast and Accurate and Someday Jones (15-1).
I’ll aim high as well and see if Threeohtwocassie (8-1) can pull off the upset after being interfered with in the stretch of his last race. I’ve got Fast and Accurate and Taxable Goods (10-1) underneath.
In the Pennsylvania Derby, to be run at 1⅛th mile on the main track, the crew narrowly sided with Hofburg (3-1) over McKinzie (5-2) and Axelrod (6-1).
I think McKinzie is the horse to beat, but I’m picking Bravazo (6-1), who dances every dance and is going to be a much better prize. I’ll go with McKinzie to place and Hofburg for the show.
Join the fun next week by emailing me or following me on Twitter and letting me know you’d like to get involved.
Ellis Starr’s Pennsylvania Derby analysis
Axelrod gets slight preference among four horses I feel have more of a probability to win than the rest, particularly as he is likely to go to post at the highest odds of the quartet. Since stretching out to two turns on dirt in his third start as a 3-year-old in June, Axelrod has really come to hand. He won the Indiana Derby with a 102 Brisnet speed figure before cruising to an easy four length victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes last month. The Smarty Jones was run over the same track as the Pennsylvania Derby and that familiarity may give Axelrod an edge over the rest.
Although away from the races for more than six months, McKinzie cannot be discounted as a contender to win the Pennsylvania Derby. In his four race career, McKinzie has crossed the wire in front on three occasions, missing by less than a length in the other. McKinzie was sidelined with a leg injury shortly after the San Felipe Stakes in March. There’s little concern about racing around two turns off a long layoff insofar as trainer Bob Baffert is concerned, as Stats Race Lens statistics reveal Baffert is three-for-five with horses returning off similar layoffs in two-turn stakes races over the past five years.
Hofburg is a supremely talented colt who just ran the best race of his career, earning a 113 figure while geared down to a five length margin of victory in the Curlin Stakes at the distance of the Pennsylvania Derby. Although winning the Curlin easily, trainer Bill Mott is putting blinkers on for this race. Considering the stature of this Hall-of-Fame trainer I will not argue with the equipment change off a win, particularly considering the colt shows a portentous blinkers on/fast workout pattern as his recent half-mile workout was the best of 60 on the day. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. rides once again and if there is any improvement from that last effort, Hofburg might put on quite a show.
Mr Freeze rounds out the quartet that I feel can win the race. Mr Freeze has won three of his four races to date and missed by just a half-length in the other. He enters the Pennsylvania Derby off a career-best effort with a 102 figure in the West Virginia Derby, in which he drew off to win by eight lengths with plenty of gas left in the tank. This will be his toughest test to date, but it must be noted his sire To Honor and Serve won the 2011 running of this race. As the late bloomer in the field, having just begun his career in April, Mr Freeze may be capable of getting the job done.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.