March 19, 2019

After recent lean years, Juvenile Fillies could be a 2018 Breeders’ Cup highlight

Bellafina, with Flavien Prat up, wins the Chandelier Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park on September 29, 2018 (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com

The last handful of years have been relative lean ones for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) in the broader historical landscape. As I noted in a piece for breederscup.com a year ago, post time favorites had won 18 of the first 33 runnings of the race (now 18 of 34 following Caledonia Road’s upset at Del Mar, a remarkable 53% strike rate), including seven in a row earlier this century.

However, with the exception of the exceptional Songbird at Keeneland in 2015, recent winners of the Juvenile Fillies have been mostly wild and unexpected. Ria Antonia (32-1), Take Charge Brandi (61-1), Champagne Room (33-1), and Caledonia Road (17-1) made quite a few bettors do a double take.

Of those four, all but Ria Antonia secured an Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old filly. However, none of the quartet ever won a graded stakes beyond their juvenile seasons. In other words, the Juvenile Fillies has of late generally lacked long-term relevance.

That could change a little more than three weeks from now as this year’s renewal is shaping up to be highly interesting one, more so given the results of last weekend’s final preps.

Bellafina will enter the Juvenile Fillies as the one to beat as she’s virtually run out of competition in Southern California following blowout wins in the Sorrento (G2), Del Mar Debutante (G1), and Chandelier (G1). Could she be like Songbird and simply be too good for these? Perhaps. Like Caledonia Road a daughter of Quality Road, Bellafina earned BRIS Speed ratings of 101, 84, and 94 for those three stakes wins.

I wouldn’t put it past others making an impact, though, especially given their experience over the Churchill Downs strip. Restless Rider, who impressively overcame trouble to win the Debutante at Churchill in a runaway in June, rebounded from her first loss in the Spinaway (G1) to take the Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland last Friday by 2 1/2 lengths. Her low 90s Speed ratings aren’t too shabby.

The Tom Amoss-trained Serengeti Empress might have flopped at Saratoga in July, but has looked the world-beater since returning to Kentucky, winning the Ellis Park Debutante and the Pocahontas (G2) by a combined margin of 33 lengths. Her last two Speed ratings have been 98 and 92.

Jaywalk has not yet raced around two turns, but the quick filly has won three in a row, including last Saturday’s Frizette (G1) by 5 3/4 lengths. That, too, earned her 98 Speed rating.

Throw in Spinaway winner Sippican Harbor and the improving Alcibiades runner-up Reflect, among others, and the Juvenile Fillies has the potential to have more far-reaching implications than it has of late. As part of the Breeders’ Cup Friday program where all five two-year-old races will be showcased, the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Fillies could prove the most entertaining of the lot.