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East vs West: Breeders’ Cup Distaff Division

East vs West: Breeders’ Cup Distaff Division

While Mike “Saratoga Slim” Spector and Curtis “Magic” Kalleward have a healthy respect for each other as writers and handicappers, that all goes out the window when it comes to their coastal biases. In the weeks leading up to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, these two will debate which coast is better depending on the division.

Slim represents the east coast and Magic represents the west coast, so they’ll dive into all of the big Breeder’s Cup races over the next few weeks to help you get ready and show how biased they really are towards their favorite local horses.

Today, they debate the Longines Distaff division.

Why the East is Beast

Slim: Kentucky is her home, but since she was stabled in New York for a bit this summer while winning Grade 1s at Belmont and Saratoga, am I stretching too much to adopt Monomoy Girl as an east coast filly?

Hey, she’s named after an island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, so she has to rep the east, right? Co-owners Sol Kumin and Mike Dubb hail from Boston and New York, respectively, so is that enough for me to call her ours?

If you disagree, then I don’t care; I love me some Monomoy Girl!

I’ve been touting her since before she won the $80,000 Rags to Riches Stakes last October by 6 1/2 lengths and I haven’t backed down since. When she drew the 14 post in the Kentucky Oaks, people told me that she was done. They said, “There’s no way she wins from there.” I didn’t care, and Monomoy Girl didn’t care, either. Under regular rider Florent Geroux, she cleared much of the field from the outside post early, then took over in the second turn before winning the Run for the Lilies by a 1/2-length over Wonder Gadot.

Her streak of four straight Grade 1 wins ended in a bit of controversy in last month’s Cotillion Stakes after she was disqualified for drifting out late towards archnemesis Midnight Bisou. Monomoy Girl was taken down by the stewards and placed second since she did not keep a straight line at all and may have affected Midnight Bisou’s late kick.

Some say that her drifting was indicative of a tired filly and showed the wear and tear of her long campaign. On the flip side, Monomoy Girl never looked comfortable over the deep Parx track. She was rank early before rushing up along the inside of a longshot to get the lead on the backside, yet she still dug down to get her nose under the wire first after facing all of that adversity.

Now, she gets back to her home track where she won the Rags to Riches and the Kentucky Oaks. Trainer Brad Cox had a plan to get her ready for the Breeder’s Cup and didn’t squeeze the lemon dry after she dominated Midnight Bisou and others in July’s Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. Immediately after the race, Cox said that they’d likely skip the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes and instead target the Cotillion as a final prep for the Breeder’s Cup Distaff. That was the plan then and that’s the plan now. With those decisions, Cox has a fresher horse that will be ready to round back into top form for her biggest test to date: facing older females for the first time on racing’s biggest stage.

Why the West is Best

Magic: Abel Tasman isn’t just the best horse in this race; she’s one of the classiest horses that we’ll see all weekend. Let’s start with her impressive resume:

  • Record of 6-2-0 in 10 career Grade 1 starts, including at ages 2, 3, and 4
  • Record of 5-1-0 in 7 starts at tracks outside the state of California
  • Back-to-back career-high Beyers in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes (100 under a romping hand ride; see below) and the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes (105 after a prolonged stretch battle)
Abel Tasman romping in the G1 Ogden Phipps (Credit: Michael Spector; aka Slim)

Completely scratch her last race, the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes. A strain of equine flu was shared around the Santa Anita backside like a keg at a frat party and its took its toll on several horses, including her Bob Baffert stablemate, Mother Mother. From the moment she was being saddled, she was uncomfortable. Since then, she’s fire back-to-back strong workouts at Santa Anita, including 1:26.40 over 7 furlongs on October 19. She’s fine.

I’ll talk more about her mental brilliance below, but in short, she has a mind of her own and a Hall of Fame rider (Mike Smith) who knows exactly how to pilot her.

“She likes to do her thing, and as long as she’s happy, I know she’s going to run big,” Smith said.

Additionally, don’t forget just how close Abel Tasman came to winning last year’s Distaff in her first shot against older females. She was closing well on the winner, Forever Unbridled, after running four-wide in the far turn but came up just a 1/2-length short. If she gets a similar setup as an improved 4-year-old, I think that she collars Forever Unbridled in the final furlong and outbattles her by a slim margin for the W. And speaking of her recent 7-furlong workout, that’s the same final work Baffert put into her before the Distaff last year.

FInally, Abel Tasman won the 2017 Kentucky Oaks in the slop, so that answers two questions (course location and condition) at once. Yes, she was a disappointing fourth in May’s Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes, her only other career start at Churchill Downs, but that was also her first race in six months. This isn’t a discussion about who’s had the better calendar year; this is about who’s better primed to win this race right now, and the answer is simple: Abel Tasman.

Duke it Out

Slim: Abel Tasman did not want to run in the Zenyatta. No matter what anyone says, she was disinterested in racing that day, and that is never a good sign. She didn’t want to load. She barely walked out of the gate. She barely ran at all. She finished fifth in a six horse field.

Magic: SHE WAS SICK!!!

Slim: She has trained well since then, but the way that Abel Tasman has thrown in non-efforts in the past cannot give you a good feeling to back her in the Distaff after that performance.

The Zenyatta followed up a huge effort she put forth to win the Personal Ensign over top foe Elate, where the two went nose-to-nose in the Saratoga stretch with some tough bumping late. Trainer Bill Mott has said that Grade 1 winner Elate hasn’t been the same since and will be forced to miss the Distaff with an injury. It’s possible that Abel Tasman also isn’t the same after that battle and will take time to regain form, especially having to travel back to California and now to Kentucky for the Distaff.

Even though Abel Tasman won the 2017 Kentucky Oaks, her La Troienne clunker is concerning. There were reports that she was training poorly before that race, but a non-effort at Churchill Downs in her recent form has to raise some red flags.

For a filly that finished second in the Distaff last year and is still the division leader, you’ll really have to trust that she can find her past form before you start throwing money at her at a short price.

Magic: Six weeks ago, I didn’t even consider Monomoy Girl to be Abel Tasman’s top threat. That honor went to Elate, who we unfortunately won’t see here. Maybe that’s for the best, though; how many times can a horse lose to Abel Tasman before ultimately losing the will to run? For your filly’s sake, I hope her answer is more than once.

It’s not that I don’t respect Monomoy Girl – I learned the hard way earlier this year what betting against her does to your bankroll – but I think she’s just not quite at Abel’s level yet. Take back for a moment and compare their recent speed figures over the same courses:

  • Belmont Park: 98 for Monomoy Girl (Grade 1 Acorn Stakes) vs 100 for Abel Tasman (Ogden Phipps – which she won while geared down, so this theoretically could have been much higher)
  • Saratoga: 98 for Monomoy Girl (CCA Oaks) vs 105 for Abel Tasman (Personal Ensign)

Speaking of Elate, you’re doing our readers a disservice by failing to mention who would’ve been your top choice if she was entered. Hell, I think Elate was the entire Racing Dudes team’s top choice in last year’s Distaff, but she fell flat in the stretch and crossed in fourth. I have a feeling that Monomoy Girl may suffer the same fate this year.

Let’s project the pace scenario. We agree that Monomoy Girl will likely sit just off the early lead while Farrell and/or Divine Miss Grey blaze away, and we can expect to see Blue Prize and Vale Dori close to the front with Monomoy Girl. Meanwhile, there is no tactically-smarter horse than Abel Tasman. If the pace is honest, she’s content to sit and stalk, but if once she senses the pace beginning to fade, she suddenly bolts (often while halfway down the backstretch) from mid-pack to the lead in a flash. She’s shown time after time after time that she can sustain this bold move while running wide through the far turn and still hold on for victory. Elate failed to do it twice, and you seemed higher on her than Monomoy Girl before an injury made your choice for you.

Final Thoughts

Slim: You can handicap this race for hours, but in the end, you have to ask yourself who you trust more: Monomoy Girl or Abel Tasman?

Maybe you don’t trust either of them to run their best race in the Breeder’s Cup and will look for an alternative like Grade 1 winners Wow Cat, Blue Prize, or Vale Dori. There are options here if you think that Abel Tasman won’t get over her Zenyatta flop and possible sickness, or if you think that Monomoy Girl has had one too many races in 2018.

If you want to make some money in this race, you really can’t play both Abel Tasman and Monomoy Girl, so I’ll trust my filly’s consistency and tractability more in this spot. I’ll lean heaviest on Monomoy Girl and play Wow Cat with her in a strong exacta. Blue Prize has been the most consistent older female this year and loves Churchill Downs, so she will definitely get mixed into my trifecta plays. I’ll play against Abel Tasman in exotic plays and use her only on saver tickets in my multi-race wagers.

Magic: My new goal in life is to find someone who admires me as much as you admire Chad Brown. Wow Cat?! Her three career stateside Beyers are 89, 90, and 93. Of the 12 other possible entries for this race, do you know how many have a career Beyer better than 93? Here’s a hint: 11. The one time that Wow Cat faced Abel Tasman, she finished 10 lengths behind in the Personal Ensign. The only reason that Vale Dori is here is because her stablemate was sick; when healthy, Abel Tasman is far and away the better of the two. I will give slight credence to Blue Prize as a potential upset, if only for the horse-for-course angle (3-2-0 record in 5 starts), but if this race was at literally any other track, then I would be against her hard. Give me Abel Tasman over Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou in an exacta, with La Force and Blue Prize added to those two in a trifecta.

I said months ago (even before fellow west coaster Unique Bella suffered her career-ending injury) that Abel Tasman was my Distaff pick, and I’m not backing down from my girl now.

You should, though.


What’s your opinion? Let us know in the comments below and/or on Twitter: @SaratogaSlim, @CurtisKalleward, and @racing_dudes! Be sure to check back daily for more debates and the latest Breeders’ Cup news as we approach the year-end championships.

Past debates:

Tito’s Handmade Vodka Juvenile Fillies Division

Sentient Jet Juvenile Division

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