A field of seven fillies and mares will square off this Sunday in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar, which will serve as a “Win and You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff (G1) later this year at Santa Anita Park.
This race is the premiere event for California’s best distaff runners. The list of recent victors who eventually became Breeder’s Cup champions reads from A to Z: Azeri, Beholder, and Zenyatta have all conquered the Clement Hirsch. While none of the 2019 contenders have yet to reach the level of those lofty names, winning this race will be a big step towards it. Leading the way from the rail is La Force, who finished a fast-closing second by a 1/2-length in last year’s edition. Most recently, she won her first graded stakes event in the Santa Maria Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
The winner of the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes will receive an automatic position in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff (G1) this fall at Santa Anita Park. Pre-entry and entry fees will be paid and a nominator award of $10,000 will be given to the nominating person. Also, all Breeders’ Cup starters based outside of the state of California will receive a travel allowance of $10,000 if based in North America and $40,000 if based Internationally.
Here is a look at the full field:
#1 La Force – After knocking on the door for almost a year and a half, she finally broke through to win the Santa Maria, which was the same 1 1/16-mile distance as this race. She rallied strongly from near the rear in last year’s Clement Hirsch to nearly defeat Unique Bella, missing by just a 1/2-length. This German-bred 5-year-old mare parlayed that effort into another second, this time in the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) behind Vale Dori, before finishing eight in the 2018 Longines Distaff. Her style is to drop back and make one big run.
#2 Just a Smidge – It’s rare when two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert has a longshot in a graded stakes race, especially one in California, but that’s likely what we have here. This 4-year-old daughter of Into Mischief hit the board only once in eight starts against graded foes, coming when she finished third in the Santa Maria behind La Force. Yet, despite her record, it’s very hard to play against Baffert in these types of races.
#3 Secret Spice – One of two Grade 1 winners in this field, she earned that distinction by winning the Beholder Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park in March. That was her second win going two turns, both at a mile, but her breeding suggests that she should be able to handle this 1 1/16-mile distance. Her most recent start came in the La Troienne Stakes (G1) over 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs, where she finished a close second after getting caught near the wire.
#4 Ollie’s Candy – Already a graded stakes winner on turf, she makes her career debut on dirt, but she should adapt well to the surface change. Since June 8, she has posted three bullet works over it, and her breeding supports it: her sire won the Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) here in 2003, and her dam won a dirt stakes. She finished second in last summer’s San Clemente Stakes (G2) and the Del Mar Oaks (G1), both held here on the turf. Most recently, she won a four-way photo for second in the Wilshire Stakes (G3) over the Santa Anita Park lawn.
#5 Paradise Woods – The other Grade 1 winner in the field has actually done so twice. After defeating eventual champion Abel Tasman in the 2017 Santa Anita Oaks, Paradise Woods defeated older horses for the first time in the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) that same year. She also finished a strong third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff held here at Del Mar. Health issues only allowed her to make three winless starts in 2018, but after changing to the John Shirreffs barn this year, she has returned to form, having won the Santa Margarita Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park over La Force.
#6 Queen Bee to You – This California-bred mare will take the big step up to the top level in her graded stakes debut. Last time out, she graduated at the stakes level while beating state-bred boys in the $100,000 Bertrando over the Los Alamitos dirt. She has made most of her career starts on turf, but including the Bertrando, she has two dirt wins to her credit. Still, she will likely go off as one of the longest shots on the board.
#7 Spring in the Wind – This late-blooming 5-year-old mare didn’t win her first career race until late last year, but she quickly did it twice more before 2018 was over. However, those wins came sprinting on Woodbine’s all-weather surface. New owner Ron “Loooch” Paolucci entered her against graded stakes foes in both of her prior 2019 starts, finishing sixth in the Humana Distaff (G1) and fifth in the Bed O’ Roses Invitational (G3). This will be her first start going two turns.
The Clement L. Hirsch Stakes serves as one of two Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events this weekend at Del Mar. The other race is the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1), which will be contested on Saturday and is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). These two contests have been quality producers of Breeders’ Cup contenders in the past, making them must-see events. The American-based Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” events continue on August 3rd at Saratoga Race Course with the running of the Whitney Stakes (G1), a “Win and You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.