Abel Tasman/Vale Dori – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff runners got wet Thursday morning with 1 ¼-mile gallops at rainy Churchill Downs. Abel Tasman, last year's 3-year-old filly champ, went out during the special Breeders' Cup training window at 7:30 under exercise rider Dana Barnes. Vale Dori got her daily exercise at 9 a.m. with Jose Contreras.
Baffert has 14 wins in the Breeders' Cup, second to D. Wayne Lukas' record 20. He has yet to pick up his first win in the Distaff and has a record of 5-0-1-0.
Abel Tasman was the runner-up in the Distaff last year at Del Mar, beaten a half-length by eventual older female champion Unbridled Forever. She has won two of four starts this year. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the leader with 26 Breeders' Cup wins, has the mount. Smith has won at least one Breeders' Cup race for seven consecutive years.
Vale Dori is making her Breeders' Cup debut as a 6-year-old. She earned her trip to the Distaff with a win in the Zenyatta, a “Win and You're In” race Sept. 30 at Santa Anita. Jockey Joe Talamo, who rode her in the Zenyatta, will be up in the Distaff on the Argentinian-bred.
Blue Prize – Merriebelle Stable's Blue Prize galloped 1 1/4 miles under exercise rider Memo Moya Thursday morning for her first training session at Churchill Downs since arriving from Keeneland Wednesday morning.
The 5-year-old Argentine-bred mare has trained much of her career at Keeneland since joining trainer Ignacio Correas IV's barn in early 2017.
“It is a great place to train a horse,” Correas said. “The track is very good and you have options (with an all-weather training surface). Plus, for most of the year there are only 400 or 500 horses there training.”
Correas is not sure what the future holds for Blue Prize after Saturday's Distaff.
“I hope she keeps running. I think she could be even better next year at 6,” Correas said. “The prime years for Argentine horses are 6 and 7.”
Bayakoa was 5 when she won the first of her two consecutive Breeders' Cup Distaffs (1989-90) and Paseana, who was a nose away from winning back-to-back Distaffs, was 5 when she won at Gulfstream Park in 1992.
Champagne Problems – Six Column Stables, Randy Bloch, John Seller, Fred Merritt and David Hall's Champagne Problems galloped 1 1/2 miles on the sloppy main track at 7 o'clock under exercise rider Kara Lee for trainer Ian Wilkes.
Champagne Problems has chased Blue Prize in her past two starts and it was the runner-up effort in the Spinster that got the connections considering about the Distaff.
“We started thinking about it after the Spinster,” Wilkes said. “She was a good second in a Grade 1 and has gotten better the last part of the year.”
Calvin Borel, whose lone Breeders' Cup victory came in the 2006 Juvenile here with Street Sense, has the mount Saturday.
La Force – Trainer Paddy Gallagher sent his Distaff prospect out again Thursday morning to gallop 1 1/4 miles on the sodden main track at Churchill Downs.
Even a steady overnight rain that turned the main track sloppy couldn't dampen the affable Irishman's spirits as his 4-year-old German-bred filly tested the wet going with Helen Isler aboard.
Midnight Bisou – Few Breeders' Cup Distaff runners have looked more composed during the mornings than Bloom Racing Stable and partners' Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bisou. The multiple Grade 1-winning daughter of dual Sprint winner Midnight Lute has impressed her conditioner with her attitude and overall disposition.
“How level her temperament is and how willing she is to accept the change from one barn to another is exceptional,” Asmussen said. “She's very intelligent and doesn't overreact. She looks and sees everything. When we school her, for example, she just needs to go and see it and then she's fine. It's almost like she's saying ‘I wanted to see it, that's all,' and she's good. She's just really confident.”
On Thursday morning, the nearly black charge schooled at the gate and galloped a lap around the Churchill Downs main track.
Monomoy Girl – Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl braved the rainy weather along with her stablemates and fellow Breeders' Cup runners Arklow (Turf), Will Call (Turf Sprint) and Golden Mischief (Filly & Mare Turf) and galloped once around the Churchill track during the 7:30 a.m. training time allotted for Breeders' Cup horses. Her regular exercise rider Mario Garcia was aboard.
“She's doing great, really training well,” trainer Brad Cox said. “We've gotten over the major hurdles now. All the serious work is over. We just need keep them all happy going into Saturday.”
Mopotism – While trainer Doug O'Neill put the rest of his Breeders' Cup prospects on jog patrol, he sent Mopotism out for her usual 1 1/2 mile gallop over Thursday morning's sloppy track at Churchill Downs.
“She went very well,” O'Neill said. “She's looking really good after some time off. She looked really tired after her last race [the Delaware Handicap July 14] and we decided she needed a break.
“So far, it looks like we made the right call.”
Verve's Tale – Charles Fipke's homebred 5-year-old mare stood in the starting gate and jogged a mile at Churchill Downs Thursday morning for her engagement in Saturday's Distaff.
“She's coming into the race perfect,” trainer Barclay Tagg said. “With all the rain, I don't like to do too much with them on a sloppy track.”
Verve's Tale, a steady-running mare who has finished first, second or third in 17 of her 22 career starts, most recently finished third in the Beldame at Belmont Park, making her first placing in a Grade I stakes.
Tagg has gone winless with his eight previous Breeders' Cup races, but he experienced the ultimate thrill for a trainer at Churchill Downs when he saddled Funny Cide for a 12-1 upset in the 2003 Kentucky Derby.
“I took him to New York for the Wood Memorial and he just got beat by a half-length by Empire Maker. People were saying Empire Maker could go around again and they were never going to beat him,” Tagg said. “I bet $200 on him to win (in the Derby). I hadn't bet for 20 years before that and I haven't made a bet since. It was the last time I made a bet.”
Wonder Gadot – Gary Barber's Kentucky Oaks runner-up jogged twice around the track clockwise Thursday morning well before sunrise.
“She was a little on the frisky side but she behaved,” trainer Mark Casse said. “What is amazing about her is that as frisky as she is in the morning, she is cool, calm and collected in the afternoon.”
On Tuesday, Wonder Gadot interspaced joyful leaps into most of her gallop.
“What everybody got to see recently is why she keeps running,” Casse said.
Casse said that after she finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar last year, she was so full of energy that he opted to race her again before the end of the year. The result was a triumph in the Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct on Dec. 2.
“Then we were going to give her some time off, but again she was so energetic that we decided to keep her in training,” he said. “After a few days, I decided to keep running her. When she worked (4f in 47 on Oct. 25 at Churchill), it was the fastest of the day of 37. Luckily we had a radio on the rider and said to shut her down at the eighth pole. If we hadn't, she would have gone in 45 or 46.”
Wow Cat – The quiet confidence of Chad Brown regarding Wow Cat's chances in the Breeders' Cup Distaff has visibly amplified as the week has gone on. Facing a field that includes two Kentucky Oaks winners, the Chilean Triple Crown winner enters with a forward trajectory worth noting.
Owned by Peter Brant and Stud Vendaval, the daughter of Lookin At Lucky was one of only four Brown trainees to stretch beyond a jog, galloping a mile Thursday morning and looking comfortable over the sloppy Churchill Downs main track.
“She's improved with every race,” Brown said. “She just needs a good pace in front of her.”
Wow Cat has made a trio of starts on domestic soil. She debuted Stateside with a neck loss to five-time graded stakes winner Farrell in the Shuvee July 29 and followed that with a distant third to Distaff foe Abel Tasman in the Personal Ensign on Aug. 25—both at Saratoga. Appearing much more within herself in the Oct. 6 Beldame at Belmont, she overpowered all and won by a widening 3¼ lengths, earning her first American and fifth lifetime G1 event.
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