Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has won the Breeders' Cup Distaff a record five times and the Breeders' Cup Classic twice. He again has a top female and male horse, but this year will run the 5-year-old mare Elate against the boys for the first time in a field for the $6 million Classic that includes her stablemate Yoshida.
Owned and bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Elate has won a quintet of Grade 1 or 2 stakes and been second in four other Grade 1 races by a combined margin of less than a length, most recently dropping Keeneland's Juddmonte Spinster by a half-length to Blue Prize after being nosed out by Midnight Bisou in Saratoga's Personal Ensign. But if Elate is 0 for 3 against Midnight Bisou, who figures to be a prohibitive favorite in the Distaff, the Mott-trained mare also is 3-for-3 at 1 1/4 miles, albeit against her own sex.
“The fact that she is 3 for 3 at a mile and a quarter is the reason why we chose the Classic,” said Mott, who was Churchill Downs' all-time win leader until passed two years ago by Dale Romans. “She's a top-class mare and she's run very well at the distance, and we want to give her the best opportunity we can at that trip.
“She's a Grade 1 winner at both distances,” he said, referencing Elate's 8 1/4-length victory in last year's Beldame at 1 1/8 miles. “It just seems — for whatever reason — that she cruises along very well and still has run in her going a mile and a quarter. Some horses, they'll tend to flatten out a little bit at that distance. But she seems to be always coming on strong.”
Zenyatta is the only female to win the Classic, doing so in 2009 when Santa Anita had a synthetic surface. She narrowly lost the 2010 Classic on dirt at Churchill Downs, dropping the only defeat of her career to Claiborne Farm's Blame.
Elate won Saratoga's Grade 1 Alabama at 10 furlongs as a 3-year-old and has taken the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap at the same distance the past two years, all three victories coming by open lengths.
Still, Mott acknowledged, “We're throwing her in deep water. We very seldom run the fillies against the colts unless we think we have a top-class horse and one that would fit the race. I think she fits the conditions of the race very well. She's proven it. It's not like it's a guessing game at a mile and a quarter. Of course we're running against good competition, so she still has to run her very best race to compete.”
That includes Yoshida, a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt. While Yoshida has made more than $1.2 million on each surface, his only win in six dirts starts was the 2018 Woodward at Saratoga. However, the Japanese-bred grandson of 1989 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Sunday Silence rallied to be a very close fourth in last year's Classic at Churchill Downs.
“He finished fourth but ran a very good race to a very good group,” Mott said. “Thunder Snow, (victorious) Accelerate. I think Thunder Snow beat us a nose (for third). If he repeats that race, that's going to put him in the mix. I think there are a lot of horses in the race that are going to be competitive. I don't think you can draw a line through that many of them. I think it's wide open.”
The $2.44 million-earner is an unusual horse who seems as good on one surface as the other, his victories including last year's Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (now known as the Old Forester Turf Classic) the race before the Kentucky Derby.
“Very versatile horse,” Mott said. “He's kind of done it all. He's a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt. He's got the pedigree for both, and it should make him an interesting stallion prospect…. With most horses, they're clearly one or the other. It's just interesting that sometimes you could have a horse who is so good on the dirt, a champion horse and you run them on the turf and they just don't do that. We had a horse called Cigar (the two-time Horse of the Year and 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic winner) who was just so-so on turf and we put him on the dirt and he had a good run.”
Mott also is running Channel Maker in the $4 million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf. The 5-year-old gelding won last year's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and this year's Man o' War at Belmont Park. He most recently was a close second behind Arklow in defense of his Joe Hirsch triumph.
The American turf horses at 1 1/2 miles have taken turns winning the division's major races all year. The Breeders' Cup Turf favorites figure to be Arlington Million winner Bricks and Mortar, who is 5 for 5 this year but has never raced farther than 1 1/4 miles, and European horses such as the 4-year-old Irish filly Magical, who was second in last year's BC Turf won by British superstar mare Enable.
“I think we belong very well with all the domestic horses, all the horses East, West coast,” Mott said. “But when the Euros come in, I think they come in with a loaded hand. And we have to respect that.”
Mott worked his Breeders' Cup trio Sunday at Santa Anita, with Elate going three-eighths of a mile in 36.80 seconds, Yoshida a half-mile in 50 flat and Channel Maker the same distance in 49.40.
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