Using history to handicap the 2019 Cotillion Stakes

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The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues in a big way on Saturday, Sept. 21 at Parx Racing. The Pennsylvania racetrack will host a stakes-laden card highlighted by the $1 million, Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes (a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff) and the $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.

Examining the history of major stakes races can reveal trends and similarities uniting past winners, which can provide a guide for identifying future winners.

With so much on the line in the Cotillion Stakes, we’ve dug through the last ten editions of this 1 1/16-mile race to compile a list of tips and trends you can put to use in your handicapping. Which filly is most likely to secure a berth to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff? Let’s find out:

Speed Horses Have an Edge

You definitely don’t want to rally from too far off the pace in the Cotillion Stakes. Over the last ten years, every Cotillion winner raced within three lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile, and eight of the ten were sitting in first, second, or third place.

Furthermore, one of the few exceptions was Midnight Bisou, who actually crossed the wire in second place before being awarded the victory by disqualification. The original winner, Monomoy Girl, was vying for the lead after the opening half-mile, reiterating the importance of tactical speed in the Cotillion.

Year Winner Position after first 1/2-mile 1/2-mile & 3/4-mile (track condition)
2018 Midnight Bisou 5th by 2.25 lengths (8 starters) 48.63, 1:13.12 (fast)
2017 It Tiz Well 2nd by 1 length (11 starters) 47.27, 1:11.37 (fast)
2016 Songbird 2nd by 0.5 lengths (6 starters) 47.71, 1:12.04 (fast)
2015 I’m a Chatterbox 4th by 3 lengths (11 starters) 47.59, 1:12.21 (fast)
2014 Untapable 3rd by 3 lengths (8 starters) 46.62, 1:10.37 (fast)
2013 Close Hatches 2nd by a head (9 starters) 47.24, 1:10.51 (fast)
2012 My Miss Aurelia 2nd by 2.5 lengths (4 starters) 50.04, 1:14.72 (fast)
2011 Plum Pretty 1st by 0.5 lengths (6 starters) 46.74, 1:10.70 (fast)
2010 Havre de Grace 2nd by 1.5 lengths (5 starters) 47.28, 1:10.84 (fast)
2009 Careless Jewel 1st by 2 lengths (6 starters) 45.72, 1:09.34 (fast)

Favor Fillies Exiting the Alabama Stakes (and Saratoga in General)

Easily the key prep race for the Cotillion Stakes has been the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. This prestigious 1 ¼-mile race has produced seven of the last ten Cotillion winners, including four in a row since 2015. Interestingly, only two of those seven fillies (Songbirdand Careless Jewel) actually won the Alabama; the rest were defeated over the extended distance at Saratoga, but evidently relished the cutback in distance for the Cotillion.

In addition, My Miss Aurelia utilized a victory in the Mandys Gold Stakes at Saratoga as her springboard to the Cotillion, which means that eight of the last ten Cotillion winners prepped at Saratoga.

Favor Proven Grade 1 Winners

It takes a seriously classy filly to prevail in the Cotillion Stakes. Seven of the last ten winners had previously won a Grade 1 race, while the other three all entered off runner-up efforts in the Alabama Stakes. Five of the ten were past or future champions, a number that could rise to six if Midnight Bisou is named champion older dirt mare this season, as is widely expected.

Play Favorites in the Exacta

Favorites have a strong record of success in the Cotillion Stakes. Over the last ten years, the favorites have recorded five victories and five runner-up efforts, so if you’ve been excluding the favorites from your exactas, then you haven’t been cashing any tickets.

Respect Mike Smith

The Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith rides mostly top-class horses these days, so take note if he accepts a mount in the Cotillion Stakes. Smith has won this race three times in the last ten years aboard Close Hatches, Songbird, and Midnight Bisou, and since 2016 his mounts at Parx have gone 4-for-9 while accumulating $2,488,000 in earnings.


The potential field for the 2019 Cotillion Stakes includes some of the best 3-year-old fillies in training. The undefeated Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks winner Guarana could start as the favorite for trainer Chad Brown, but Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk, and Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks winner Bellafina could add further depth to the high-quality field.

The only problem, at least from a historical perspective, is that none of these fillies contested the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. The form of the Alabama will be represented in the Cotillion by third-place finisher Street Band, but this mid-pack closer has yet to win at the Grade 1 level and her running style might not be the best fit for Saturday’s race.

In the end, Guarana probably best matches the profile of a historical Cotillion winner. She’s won at the Grade 1 level, she’s likely to be favored, and she prepped for the Cotillion with a victory at Saratoga, even though it wasn’t the Alabama. For good measure, Guarana defeated Serengeti Empress by six lengths in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park, suggesting she might be a cut above the other Grade 1 winners in this high-quality field.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Cotillion Stakes from Parx Racing on September 21. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBC.