2016: The Year of the Filly

Cathryn Sophia - Photo Credit: Lauren King
Lauren King

Not since Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta have we seen two fillies with the type of talent shown by the likes Cathryn Sophia and Songbird. In 2009 Rachel Alexandra burst onto the scene in dominate fashion much like the two previously mentioned fillies, and ended up winning the Kentucky Oaks by an eye popping 20 lengths! After that triumph it only got better for Rachel as she captured the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Stakes, and Woodward Stakes while being named 2009 Horse of the Year. However, the Amazon from California named Zenyatta stole headlines to end the 2009 season by becoming the first female horse in history to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Zenyatta won Horse of the Year the following year in 2010, and is believed by many to be among the greatest female horses of all time. While there is still a long ways to go, this year could offer the same sort of set up.

The “big filly” coming into the year, and also still currently in the eyes of many is obviously Songbird. After three dominating wins in California she came to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup as the overwhelming favorite in the Juvenile Fillies Stakes, and she didn’t disappoint as she wired the field with ease. The margin of victory was devastating, and her final time was faster than the final time the males ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This year the party has continued as she simply ran away from her competition in the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita while never even breaking a sweat. In fact, she was never even asked at all. Mike Smith was simply along for the ride! Even though her competition was inferior it was still a sight to be seen.

Ever since Songbird’s win in the Del Mar Debutante it has basically just been assumed that she has zero competition. That assumption, however, appears be long gone now as there is an extremely impressive filly at Gulfstream Park. That filly of course is Cathryn Sophia who just continues to win, and win very impressively! After two blowout efforts at Parx, Cathryn Sophia came to Gulfstream Park to run in the Forward Gal and ran into some trouble early in the race but still dominated. She returned in the Davona Dale Stakes and was even more impressive this time out winning again in blowout fashion. Her beyer speed figure for the race was higher than that of Mohaymen winning the Fountain of Youth on the same card, and I have very little doubt that Cathryn Sophia would have won that race if entered in it.

One thing that never developed in 2009 or 2010 that could develop this year is a head-to-head match up between the two superstars. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta disappointingly never met on the race track, and the debate of “who would have won” is one that is still talked about to this day. All horse racing fans now have their sights set on the first Friday in May when our current two superstars are probable to square off in the Kentucky Oaks. However, as horse racing fans we also know that things can change in our sport very quickly. One wrong step by either of these two horses and the dream match up between the two will be put on hold. In 2010 Oaklawn Park put up an eye popping 10 million dollars to try to lure Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom. Zenyatta came to Hot Springs after winning her prep race, but Rachel Alexandra did not return to the track that year as the same filly as she lost her prep race for the Apple Blossom and skipped out on the challenge.

Speaking of Rachel Alexandra. Her daughter is also in this three year old filly crop and is pretty salty in her own right. Rachel’s Valentina seems to be a filly that has been completely forgotten, but let’s remember that her only loss came to Songbird in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. If not for Songbird, Rachel’s Valentina would be an undefeated filly and most undoubtedly an Eclipse Award winning two year old. She’s had a few minor set backs to start the year, but has starting to get back to work and is nearing a return to the races soon. There is no question the now three year old will have to step up to compete with the top two in the division, but there is also no doubt that she could do just that. If you throw her name into the mix that makes three potential stars waiting to dominate the headlines in 2016.

For now we are we’ll take it one day at a time while dreaming of what could happen come May. Will this be one of the greatest Kentucky Oaks of all time? Can the Kentucky Oaks winner win the Preakness like Rachel did in 2009? Or is this 3 year old filly crop just overrated at the current time? We’ll find out those answers soon enough, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy the talent that is currently on the track and hope for a 2016 filled with “Zenyatta/Rachel” type of memories.

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