LADIES CLASSIC PREVIEW
We have been spoiled.
For the past three years we've watched the male division fall apart later in the year while the distaffers continued going strong.
Racemares Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Havre de Grace taking racing's top honor -- Horse of the Year -- when it came time to hand out Eclipse Awards. Those three put together brilliant campaigns that shone all the brighter when compared to their male contemporaries.
This year could finally see the boys end the stranglehold the mares have placed on the Horse of the Year title. It could also see the fillies continue unabated if the Breeders' Cup Classic is won by a longshot and one of three top-class mares dominate the Ladies' Classic. Awesome Feather, My Miss Aurelia and Royal Delta could all give their connections something to celebrate at the end of January, but first need to stamp their dominance over fellow distaffers on Friday.
Both Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia will need spectacular performances in the Ladies' Classic and a shocking result in the Classic to take down Horse of the Year accolades. Though the pair sport unbeaten marks, they've each only raced twice this season.
Awesome Feather, in particular, will need to do something special. The Awesome of Course four-year-old easily captured the Florida Sunshine Millions Distaff in late January before being shelved until a 11 1/4-length romp in the Nasty Storm overnight stakes at Belmont on September 20. Tendon issues have plagued the Chad Brown trainee since she wrapped up two-year-old filly championship honors in 2010 with a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Awesome Feather was sold just two days following her Breeders' Cup effort and transferred from Stanley Gold's barn to Brown, who ran her twice last year for wins in the La Slew and Grade 1 Gazelle. So the bay filly is no stranger to winning off breaks, but she'll be facing her toughest task to date against a stellar cast assembled for this year's Ladies' Classic.
Like Awesome Feather, My Miss Aurelia was sidelined following her Eclipse Award-winning performance in last year's Juvenile Fillies. The Smart Strike miss suffered a shin injury not long after that contest and didn't return until early August at Saratoga, where she posted a three-length victory in the Mandy's Gold. My Miss Aurelia got back to real business in the Grade 1 Cotillion last out on September 22, gutting out a head score over fellow Ladies' Classic runner Questing.
The bay sophomore faces a tough task on Friday, as she'll be facing older horses for the first time, but holds a slight advantage over some of her rivals in that she's been training at Santa Anita ever since the Cotillion. My Miss Aurelia even posted a :48 half-mile move at the California track on Sunday that was awarded the breezing designation, something notoriously hard to attain on California tracks.
Fellow champion Royal Delta doesn't have quite the same hurdle as her rivals to wear a Horse of the Year crown. The Empire Maker filly captured last year's Ladies' Classic by 2 1/2 lengths and, despite a pair of lackluster efforts at the very beginning of the year, has strutted her stuff in four starts since. She romped by eight lengths in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis, gutted out a head decision in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap and most recently dominated by 9 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational on September 29.
The only mark on Royal Delta's record this year came when she missed by a half-length to the re-opposing Love and Pride in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Invitational. However, she just failed to catch her rival while giving her 10 pounds in that contest. The pair will be carrying the same weight this time around, which could more than make up that half-length difference.
Love and Pride doesn't really have any Horse of the Year aspirations, but she could still earn an Eclipse Award if she upsets the top three in the Ladies' Classic. Following her Personal Ensign victory, the A.P. Indy four-year-old tried out Santa Anita for the first time in the Grade 1 Zenyatta, wiring that contest by 3 1/4 lengths.
Love and Pride, who is now 4-2-0 from eight starts heading into the Ladies' Classic, ran third to Awesome Feather in last year's Gazelle but her Zenyatta score may give her enough of an edge to beat all comers this time around.
The race for champion three-year-old filly honors will also be decided in the Ladies' Classic. Questing will battle it out with My Miss Aurelia and Grace Hall in the nine-furlong contest for the honor. The Hard Spun lass, who was just caught by that former rival after leading throughout in the Cotillion, boasts easy wins in the Alabama and Coaching Club American Oaks, both Grade 1s, this season.
Questing was a European invader last year for the Juvenile Fillies, finishing fifth on that occasion, and stayed in the United States for her sophomore campaign, though she didn't face stakes rivals again until the CCA Oaks. Grace Hall, on the other hand, has been active ever since her runner-up effort in the Juvenile Fillies. The Empire Maker three-year-old has added the Gulfstream Oaks, Delaware Oaks and, most recently, Indiana Oaks to her resume this season. All three of those are Grade 2 events, but she also ran third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks earlier in the year.
Include Me Out owns a 3-1-1 mark from six starts at Santa Anita and will complete the field for this year's Ladies' Classic. She's been in the top three in all six races this year, including wins in the Clement L. Hirsch and Santa Margarita Invitational, both Grade 1s, but her numbers aren't quite on par with her top rivals in this spot. The Include filly may have a shot for another placing but the win looks out of her reach.
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