Abel Tasman/Vale Dori – When the 2017 3yo champion filly turned in an oddly poor performance – fifth by 10 ½ lengths – in the Zenyatta on Sept. 29, trainer Bob Baffert wasn't sure if she was sick, like others in his stable, or the victim of a bad trip. Baffert's other starter in the Zenyatta, Vale Dori, snapped a six-race losing streak to earn the “Win and You're In” berth in the $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Baffert said Abel Tasman, a daughter of hot sire Quality Road, who shipped from Southern California to Kentucky Tuesday was ready for the Distaff. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be aboard for the 11th consecutive race. They will start from post two in the field of 11.
“I think she will run well,” Baffert said. “She's a horse you have to be aggressive with. Mike wasn't aggressive with her the last time. She fell back and never really got in the race. She was flat.
“Now she's on the inside. I like her when she draws the inside because he has to force the issue a little bit and she wants to get running early. If you let her fall back it's hard for her to get going again. Mike was telling me, if he asks her to go, after she takes off if there is a horse in front of her he's afraid she's going to run over the top of horses. He's going to have to be aggressive with her.”
Vale Dori stood in the starting gate at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning and galloped about one mile under Dana Barnes. In the Distaff, she will start from post eight with Joe Talamo, who was up for the Zenyatta victory.
Blue Prize – Blue Prize comes into the Distaff fresh off her Spinster Stakes victory at Keeneland on Oct. 7. It was her second “Win and You're In” score as she also captured the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Breeders' Cup host track Churchill Downs June 16.
The Spinster was the first Grade One win in the United States for both Blue Prize and for her Argentine-born trainer, Ignacio Correas IV. Blue Prize won a Group One in her home country in October of 2016 before shipping to the states.
The 5-year-old Pure Prize mare drew post 10 of 11 in the Distaff, and Correas said the post was fine both with him and jockey Joe Bravo, who rode her to victory in the Spinster and will be aboard her again Saturday.
“It's good,” said Correas. “It will give us the opportunity to see where the other ones go and be able to pick our spot. I was texting with Joe, and he was very happy. If he's happy, I'm happy.”
As to strategy in the Distaff, “We'll let her do her thing,” he said. “She's probably going to sit, two, three, four lengths off the pace and we'll see what happens.”
Blue Prize has put together a big year with four wins and second from six starts. The only blemish came in her seasonal debut, when she was seventh (8 ¾ lengths) in the Azeri at Oaklawn on St. Patrick's Day.
“She's had an amazing career and a great year for us. She's helped us a lot,” Correas said. “She likes to win. She delivers always — almost always, she failed a bit at Oaklawn.”
The loss at Oaklawn is the only time she's failed to hit the board. She's won seven and run second three times and third once from 16 lifetime starts. Her career earnings stand at $964,753 heading into the Distaff.
“She always shows up and she always runs her eyeballs out,” Correas said. “She's very honest.”
Blue Prized jogged a mile and a quarter the wrong way this morning at Keeneland under regular exercise rider Memo Maya.
She is scheduled to gallop very early tomorrow before getting on a van to Churchill at 6:45 a.m.
“She'll gallop tomorrow, and gallop up the race,” Correas said. “There's not much more to do (to get ready for Saturday).”
Champagne Problems – Six Column Stables, Randy Bloch, John Seller, Fred Merritt and David Hall's Champagne Problems walked the shedrow at the Skylight Training Center Tuesday and was expected to come to Churchill Downs this afternoon according to trainer Ian Wilkes.
Champagne Problems does the bulk of her training at Skylight, located in Goshen, Kentucky. “She has done awfully well there, so why change,” Wilkes said.
To be ridden in the 11-horse Distaff by Calvin Borel, Champagne Problems will break from post position one.
“(The draw) is no big deal,” Wilkes said. “It won't change her running style.”
La Force – While knocking on the door often, La Force is still without a graded stakes victory, but Sabine Gallagher, trainer Paddy Gallagher's wife and in charge of the filly's early training at Churchill Downs, is hopeful that the German-bred might be able to open that door Saturday as she races in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, a perennially tough assignment.
Exercise rider Helen Isler took the 4-year-old filly 1 1/2 miles over the Churchill Downs main track under the watchful eye of the trainer's wife, who is a veterinarian.
Regarding the filly's post position three draw, Sabine said, “That's a good spot for her. We're hoping for a lively pace. She usually picks her spot in the race and closes well.”
Sabine will pass the training baton to her husband, who is scheduled to arrive late Tuesday, for the rest of the week. She will return to their Southern California stable early Wednesday.
Midnight Bisou—Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables LLC and Allen Racing LLC's Midnight Bisou, the beaten favourite in May's Kentucky Oaks, continued her preparations for the Distaff by walking the shedrow one day after a routine half-mile breeze. The Distaff is contested over the same course and nine-furlong distance this year as the Oaks – a race into which she was trained by Bill Spawr. She was turned over to trainer Steve Asmussen henceforth and has a record of 1-2-1 from four starts for the six-time Breeders' Cup winner.
“She came out well and just walked the shedrow today,” Asmussen said. “I think the best thing about 'Bisou' is her consistency. Bill Spawr had her before (a third-place finish in) the Oaks and she came to us with a great attitude, a great temperament in her training; everything about her. We feel very good about her at a mile and an eighth here at Churchill.”
Of Asmussen's sextet of successes on Breeders' Cup weekend, he has won five events. His record in the Distaff is impressive from three starts, including a win by Untapable (2014) and a runner-up effort by My Miss Aurelia (2012).
Monomoy Girl – The Kentucky Oaks winner returned to the track for a one-mile jog with exercise rider Mario Garcia aboard Tuesday morning, two days after completing her major preparations for the Distaff with a half-mile breeze in 48 2/5.
Trainer Brad Cox marveled at how well the year has gone for Monomoy Girl, who was installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite for the Distaff.
“She's just been so consistent,” Cox said. “She's been consistent in her breezes and in her races. She has not taken one step backwards. We gave her a little break after the Coaching Club and she responded well. She ran well in the Cotillion. She didn't get the prize money and that's the only dark spot on her year, but she's coming into this race as well as any other race this year.
“Mentally, I think she's more mature than she was in the Oaks. Some might find that hard to believe after the Cotillion, but she is. It is what it is. She couldn't be doing any better right now.”
Mopotism – Apparently relishing a break from the heavy action over the first seven months of the year, Mopotism is showing signs of being ready for new action as she prepares for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
“She's sort of under the radar,” trainer Doug O'Neill said, “But she has come back from her break with renewed energy and stamina. She seemed pretty tired after her last race [sixth in the Delaware Handicap], so we sent her to the farm for a little freshening.
“She's looking good and acting good right now.”
Mopotism galloped 1 1/4 miles Tuesday morning under exercise rider Amir Cedeno.
Verve's Tale – Charles Fipke's homebred 5-year-old daughter of Tale of Ekati galloped a mile under Heather Smullen at Churchill Downs Tuesday, the morning after arriving from trainer Barclay Tagg's Belmont Park base.
Verve's Tale drew the No. 6 post position in the field of 11 fillies and mares for the Distaff and was rated as 30-1 in the morning line.
“I love the post. She a tough mare. She's gotten better with age. She's a step below Grade 1 probably, but she tries hard every time. She's a nice sound filly,” Tagg said. “I love her. I've had her all along.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. has been named to ride Verve's Tale for the first time.
Wonder Gadot – The 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro displayed her exuberance in her Tuesday exercise in preparation for Saturday's Distaff. Trainer Mark Casse said Canada's champion juvenile filly of last year thrives on racing. In what Casse calls her Wonder Woman imitation, Wonder Gadot added some joyful leaps into her gallop.
“She does that when she is feeling good,” he said. “She is all business the rest of the time but she just gets excited when she is training. She had a spirited gallop on Monday and her work (on Oct. 25 when she breezed a half-mile in 47 flat at Churchill, the best of 37 at the distance) was perfect.”
Wonder Gadot sometimes returns to the track the day after a workout in a deviation from the customary practice staying in the barn.
Casse is looking forward to Wonder Gadot's return to Churchill.
“We know she loves Churchill,” he said. “The best race she ever ran was when she was second to Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks. Her last race wasn't great (third in the Cotillion at Parx Racing on Sept. 22) but maybe she did not care for the track which was loose in parts.”
The filly is named for Gal Gadot, the actress who portrays Wonder Woman in the movie. (The last syllable of Gadot is pronounced “dot” and does not rhyme with “doe.”)
“She just amazes me,” Casse said. “After she worked on Oct. 25 I was walking her and five minutes later she was jumping with all four feet off the ground and kicking. She has a lot of energy. That is just her. It is not something you can train into them. They either have it or they don't. She is a rare individual.”
Wow Cat—Peter M. Brant and Stud Vendeval Inc.'s Chilean Triple Crown champion Wow Cat got her first look at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning for trainer Chad Brown, galloping one mile around the dirt course shortly after 9 o'clock and promptly returning to the barn.
Since arriving Stateside, the 4-year-old Chilean-bred daughter of Lookin At Lucky has a record of 1-1-1 from a trio of tries and exits her best effort—a 3¼-length tally in Belmont's Beldame Invitational on Oct. 6. The win was her ninth from 11 lifetime tries and fifth at the top level.
“She's coming into the race well,” Brown said. “She seems to have gotten better the longer she has been with us. I couldn't be happier with the way she's training. Hopefully there's a good, strong pace in front of us.”
Wow Cat was previously trained by Carlos Hernandez in Chile, where she was bred by Haras Paso Nevado. She is the 10th Chilean-bred to contest the world championships and would be the first to win. The closest to come to victory was Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor-trained Cocoa Beach, also a champion in her native land, who was second to the great Zenyatta in 2008.
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