The Distaff dirt division for older female fillies and mares has taken a back-seat to the three year-old males and fillies for most of 2016, but will be thrust back into the spotlight the next two weekends.
With two Grade-1 affairs coast-to-coast in the Vanity Mile at Santa Anita on June 4 and the Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11, most of the big names in the older female dirt division will be on display.
It may be premature to rank the division right now because these ranks may be turned up-side down in the next two weekends, but highlighting how each filly and mare is preparing for these mid-year showdowns will help sort out these important races.
Here’s a look at the top 10 fillies and mares in the older dirt Distaff female division leading into the next two big weekends of races:
1. Beholder – The defending 2015 Eclipse Award winning Champion Older Mare returned in her 2016 debut to dominate the Grade-3 Adoration Stakes on May 8 at Santa Anita at 1 & 1/16 mile. She will cut back slightly to the new Grade-1 Vanity distance of a mile and will face off against one of the top four-year olds on the west coast in Stellar Wind. Now six-years old, Beholder has won 12 of her 13 races lifetime at Santa Anita. With the 2016 Breeders’ Cup to be held at Santa Anita in early November, there is no reason for her to leave the west coast this year. She has won seven races in a row and interestingly, her last loss came in the 2014 Grade-1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park when she finished fourth.
2. Stopchargingmaria – Sits second on this list based on the strength of her 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff victory. Her return in the seven-furlong Grade-1 Madison at Keeneland on April 9 was one of the most exciting races of 2016 as she dueled Sheer Drama in the stretch finishing second by a neck. Stopchargingmaria can fire fresh off lay-offs and has been training in Saratoga for the Grade-1 Ogden Phipps for trainer Todd Pletcher. By giving nine weeks between the grueling Madison and the Phipps, she should be primed once again like she did taking off exactly nine weeks in between her loss in the Personal Ensign last summer at Saratoga and her win in the Breeders’ Cup.
3. Curalina – After finishing third in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Curalina returned off a long lay-off in the Grade-1 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs to dominate by 7½ lengths drawing off. The La Troienne was at the same 1 & 1/16 mile distance of the upcoming Personal Ensign, so she should be ready again this time second off the bench. Curalina has proven herself over the Belmont oval winning the Grade-1 Acorn on 2015 Belmont Stakes day and ran a strong second behind since-retired Wedding Toast in the Grade-1 Beldame in her debut against older females last September. Curalina is ranked so highly here because of her upside and will need to show she’s for real in the Ogden Phipps to stay at the top of the division.
4. Sheer Drama – Unlike Stopchargingmaria, trainer David Fawkes decided to run Sheer Drama back after the Madison in the Grade-1 La Troienne Stakes on May 6. Her grueling duel in the Madison may have shown its wear as she ran an even, non-threatening third behind impressive winner Curalina. Even though Sheer Drama has three Grade-1 wins in her last five races, she is ranked behind Curalina on this list due to her loss in the La Troienne and her fourth place finish behind her by a length in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Sheer Drama is only questionable for the Ogden Phipps and may point instead to a defense of her Grade-1 Delaware Handicap title in July.
5. Stellar Wind – Unlike many on this list, Stellar Wind has yet to run in 2016 and will be making her seasonal debut in the Vanity on June 4. Even though she ran a close second beaten by a neck by Stopchargingmaria in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, her ranking in the 5 slot is due to her lack of a race in 2016. Things can change sometimes for fillies from their three-year old to four-year old campaigns, so that doubt keeps her lower in the rankings right now. Trainer John Sadler has said the late start is intentional with the primary focus being the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. Stellar Wind will be up against a tall task off a long-layoff facing Beholder in her return, but she is a perfect 3 for 3 in her career at Santa Anita. Even if she is unable to defeat Beholder, a good showing would keep her highly rated. Besides Beholder, the Vanity field will be small with only Lost Bus, Divina Comedia and Moyo Honey expected to enter.
6. Forever Unbridled – Her win in the Grade-1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 15 was the result of a perfect stalking trip by jockey John Velazquez. Forever Unbridled also won the Grade-3 Houston Ladies Classic to start the year at Sam Houston Park and is a possible entry for the Ogden Phipps.
7. Cavorting – After being dismissed as possibly only a sprinter, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin entered Cavorting in the Grade-2 Ruffian on May 14 at the one-turn mile. She stalked and pounced drawing clear by 5 lengths in a triumphant statement over the Belmont strip. With such an emphatic display in the local prep for the Ogden Phipps, Cavorting is one to watch, especially since the Ogden Phipps will also be run around the same one-turn.
8. Taris – Nominated to the Vanity, but according to trainer Simon Callaghan will most likely wait until the Grade-1 Triple Bend at seven furlongs against males on June 25. Her impressive Grade-1 Humana Distaff win on Kentucky Derby day by almost 6 lengths puts her atop the older female sprint division. She may not be limited to only sprints going forward, though, as she showed the ability to win against females going longer this year at 1 & 1/16 miles in the Grade-2 La Canada on January 16.
9. Wavell Avenue – Nominated to the Ogden Phipps, but will most likely not enter. The 2015 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner ran a sneaky good third in the stacked Madison on April 9. Her disappointing fourth in the Humana Distaff may have been a result of being involved in the grueling Madison a few weeks earlier. Additionally, the theory that the Churchill dirt was playing to front-end speed on Derby day may not have set up for her closing kick in the Humana Distaff.
10. Carrumba – Gets the #10 spot here based mainly on her potential to shock the older female dirt division if she puts up a huge performance in the Ogden Phipps. She has kept good class lately by only losing to Cavorting and Forever Unbridled in her last five races going back to last September. She should be a pace presence for trainer Shug McGaughey and would be the “feel good” story of Belmont Stakes weekend if she can win the race named after her owner Ogden Phipps, who recently passed away.
Other older fillies and mares that may be able to jump into the top ten in future weeks include Tara’s Tango and I’m a Chatterbox. Tara’s Tango finished third in the Apple Blossom after winning the Grade-1 Santa Margarita on March 19 at Santa Anita over Taris.
I’m a Chatterbox returned at Keeneland to get second in the Grade-3 Doubledogdare after a disappointing eighth in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. That second place finish was somewhat flattered when the third place finisher in that race, Ahh Chocolate, returned a strong winner in the Grade-2 Allaire Dupont Distaff at Pimlico on May 20.
Last but not least, the 2014 Eclipse Award winning Champion 3-Year Old Filly Untapable will be looking to turn her career around in the Grade-2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 18. She hasn’t won a race in her last six attempts and will possibly get “softer” company by waiting a week after the Ogden Phipps.
The next few weekends should get the older female Distaff division back into focus. Who is able to perform well in these next few races may alter the balance of power in the division dramatically.