2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff betting primer

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The $2 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff features one of the most formidable favorites for the 14 Breeders’ Cup races in Midnight Bisou, who is unbeaten in seven starts this season, but there also is tremendous depth with 10 Grade 1 winners pre-entered.

While multiple Grade 1 winner Elate is expected to contest the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, there should be nine Grade 1 winners entered for the 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares, which has a scheduled post time of 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.


1. Paradise Woods (5-1)

Jockey: Abel Cedillo

Trainer: John Shirreffs

Owners: HS Stable LLC, Martin Wygod and Pam Wygod

Career record: 17 starts – 5 wins – 3 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $1,123,890

Earnings per start: $52,906

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 112

Pedigree: Union Rags – Wild Forest, by Forest Wildcat

Color: Bay

Age: 5

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The biggest wild card in the Longines Distaff field probably is Paradise Woods, an all-or-nothing type capable of posting multiple open-length Grade 1 and Grade 2 wins – her most recent a dominant 1 ¾-length victory in the Sept. 29 Zenyatta Stakes – and also capable losing by six or more lengths as she’s done half a dozen times in her career. The good Paradise Wood can be great — she has run a 111 or 112 Equibase Speed Figure four times in her three-year career — but she also run in the mid-90s in three of her six races in 2019. She ran third in the Distaff in 2017, proving that it’s not quality of competition that is the barrier but simply inconsistency. On the plus side, she enters the race off the visually impressive win mentioned above, and her four best races from a speed-figure perspective all came on this main track. If she fires, Paradise Woods is one of the few Distaff contenders capable of beating Midnight Bisou. Co-owners Marty and Pam Wygod won the Distaff in 2009 with Life Is Sweet, who was trained by Paradise Woods’ trainer, John Shirreffs. Shirreffs also won the Classic that year with Zenyatta, who took the Distaff in 2008.


2. Ollie’s Candy (15-1)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: John Sadler

Owners: Paul Eggert and Karen Eggert

Career record: 9 starts – 4 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $476,151

Earnings per start: $52,906

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Candy Ride – Afternoon Stroll, by Stroll

Color: Dark Bay or Brown

Age: 4

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Ollie’s Candy began her career racing primarily on turf and synthetic surfaces, but the one dirt race in her first seven starts was a Grade 2 win in the Summertime Oaks at Del Mar in June 2018. While she had success on turf, running second by a neck in a Grade 1 and a Grade 2, she was shifted to the main track in July 2019 and outfinished Distaff entrant Secret Spice to win the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes by a head, earning a career-best 109 Equibase Sped Figure. Ollie’s Candy finished third in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes in her final prep for the Distaff after racing seven lengths back early. Expect her to make better use of her tactical speed in the Distaff and stay a bit closer to the front because Ollie’s Candy can be tenacious in a battle. I would not be as excited about Ollie’s Candy’s chances if the Distaff wasn’t at her home base at Santa Anita, but she’s a serious threat here for a top-three finish against a terrific field. Trainer John Sadler has finished second (Stellar Wind, 2015) and third (Iotapa, 2014) with six previous Distaff starters; jockey Joel Rosario has two seconds and two thirds from five starters in the Distaff.


3. Street Band (10-1)

Jockey: Sophie Doyle

Trainer: Larry Jones

Owners: Ray Francis, Cindy Jones, Larry Jones, Medallion Racing and MyRaceHorse Stable

Career record: 12 starts – 5 wins – 0 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $1,052,425

Earnings per start: $87,702

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Istan – Street Minstrel, by Street Cry

Color: Chestnut

Age: 3

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Street Band enters the Distaff off the most important victory of her career, a 2 ¼-length victory from off the pace in the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes Sept. 21 at Parx Racing. She also won a pair of graded stakes earlier in the year and finished third in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes in a breakout 3-year-old season. Street Band will need to improve on her career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure, set in the Cotillion, but she’ll have six weeks of rest coming into the race and 3-year-olds often make a big jump in the fall. Three-year-olds have won 11 of the 35 editions of the Distaff and at least one has finished in the Distaff exacta every year since 2010. Pace could play a major factor in Street Band’s chances as she most likely would need at least an honest pace to set up her closing kick and would benefit greatly if several runners hook up early in a speed duel. Regardless, Street Band should be passing horses in the stretch for trainer Larry Jones, whose best finish in the Distaff was a fifth-place finish from I’m a Chatterbox in 2016.


4. Midnight Bisou (6-5)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables, and Allen Racing

Career record: 18 starts – 12 wins – 3 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $3,410,000

Earnings per start: $189,444

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 118

Pedigree: Midnight Lute – Diva Delite, By Repent

Color: Dark Bay or Brown

Age: 4

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Last year’s Distaff third-place finisher Midnight Bisou is unbeaten in seven starts this year with three Grade 1 wins. She posted Equibase Speed Figures of 115 for each of her two most recent starts in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes in August at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Beldame Invitational Stakes Sept. 28 at Belmont Park. There’s a good chance that she could take a small step forward and match or better her career-best 118 on five weeks rest, which makes her extremely formidable on paper. Visually, she has been even more impressive this year, handling every challenge thrown her was as she has put together a résumé worthy of a Horse of the Year candidate. Midnight Bisou is a Grade 1 winner on this main track and has three wins and a second in four career starts at Santa Anita. Expect Midnight Bisou to be the heavy favorite in the Distaff against a very good group, and she will be tough to beat. Five of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith’s record 26 Breeders’ Cup wins have come in the Distaff, and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has a win (Untapable, 2014), one second, and one third with four career starters in the Distaff. Co-owner Sol Kumin of Madaket Stable was a co-owner of last year’s Distaff winner Monomoy Girl.


5. Dunbar Road (6-1)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owner: White Birch Farm

Career record: 6 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $637,900

Earnings per start: $106,317

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Pedigree: Quality Road – Gift List, by Bernardini

Color: Bay

Age: 3

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Looking for a filly with upside capable of upsetting Midnight Bisou in the Distaff? Dunbar Road might be the one for you. The 3-year-old filly has never run a bad race in six starts for trainer Chad Brown, the winner of the last three Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer, and Dunbar Road won the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths going 1 ¼ miles Aug. 17 at Saratoga. Stamina will not be an issue for Dunbar Road cutting back to 1 1/8 miles here, and she is eligible to improve after running third behind Blue Prize and Elate in the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes Oct. 6 at Keeneland. That was her first start against older females and she produced a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure. Brown had handled Dunbar Road carefully this season and I believe there is a very good chance she is sitting on a career-best performance, but she very likely would need to improve by five to 10 points to hand Midnight Bisou her first loss of the year. Dunbar Road looks like a major threat for a top-three finish in the Distaff for Brown, who was second a year ago in this race with Wow Cat, and 3-year-olds historically have performed quite well in this race. Jose Ortiz’s best finish with three prior Distaff starters was his runner-up finish in 2018 on the aforementioned Wow Cat. Peter Brant, who races in his own name as well as White Birch Farm, also co-owns Wow Cat.


6. Wow Cat (15-1)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owners: White Birch Farm and Stud Vendaval

Career record: 15 starts – 9 wins – 4 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $1,182,977

Earnings per start: $78,865

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 114

Pedigree: Lookin At Lucky – Winter Cat, by Cat Thief

Color: Dark Bay or Brown

Age: 5

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Undefeated in eight starts in Chile and the 2017-2018 Horse of the Year in that country, Wow Cat came to the U.S. last summer and won a Grade 1 in her third start before running second by a length in the 2018 Longines Distaff. The 5-year-old Lookin At Lucky mare is winless in three starts in 2019, but she enters this year’s Distaff off of her best race of the year – a runner-up finish to Midnight Bisou in the Grade 2 Beldame Invitational Stakes Sept. 28 – and she showed a year ago she has the talent to compete with the elite company in this race. Wow Cat is really flying under the radar entering the Breeders’ Cup this year – Daily Racing Form has her listed at 20-1 odds – and she should offer terrific value for those looking for a longshot. Her second-place finish last year was trainer Chad Brown’s best finish in this race. Co-owner Peter Brant (White Birch Farm) also campaigns Dunbar Road.


7. Secret Spice (10-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Richard Baltas

Owners: Little Red Feather Racing and Bobby Flay

Career record: 13 starts – 3 wins – 5 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $548,510

Earnings per start: $42,193

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113

Pedigree: Discreet Cat – Chimayo, By A.P. Indy

Color: Bay

Age: 4

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Secret Spice has shown significant improvement in 2019. After running primarily against allowance competition with a pair of unplaced finishes in stakes, Secret Spice powered to a 2 ¼-length win in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile Stakes in her second start of the year. Since then, she has finished second by a half-length in the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes Presented by Inside Access from Chase, second by a head in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, and second by 1 ¾ lengths in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes Sept, 29 at Santa Anita. The Distaff will be Secret Spice’s first try stretching out to 1 1/8 miles, and distance could be the main hurdle for the 4-year-old Discreet Cat filly, who led in the stretch of her previous three starts at 1 1/16 miles before fading late. Her tactical speed should place Secret Spice in good position either on the lead or racing just behind the pacesetter and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez should be a nice fit as he picks up the mount. There is a chance Secret Spice has the lead at the eighth pole, but I think holding on for a minor placing might be the best she can hope for against a powerful group in the Distaff. She would definitely move up considerably if the main track proves to be speed-favoring. Velazquez will be seeking his third Distaff win after victories in 2004 on Ashado and 2017 on Forever Unbridled.


8. La Force (30-1)

Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke

Trainer: Patrick Gallagher

Owner: Roberta Williford, Ward Williford, and Charles N. Winner

Career record: 28 starts – 3 wins – 8 seconds – 5 thirds

Career earnings: $599,151

Earnings per start: $21,398

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115

Pedigree: Power – La Miraculeuse, By Samum

Color: Dark Bay or Brown

Age: 5

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: La Force earned her career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure on the main track at Santa Anita and also earned her lone graded stakes win on this main track earlier this year when winning the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes by 1 ¼ lengths. While capable of big races against quality competition, La Force is more inconsistent then many of her opponents in the 2019 Distaff with only three wins in 28 lifetime starts. While the homecourt advantage could give La Force a boost, she was in much better form a year ago for the Distaff when she finished eighth. A hot pace could improve her chances, but with a star like Midnight Bisou in a field that will also include at least eight other Grade 1 winners, a minor placing probably is the ceiling for La Force.


9. Serengeti Empress (12-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Tom Amoss

Owner: Joel Politi

Career record: 11 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,282,120

Earnings per start: $116,556

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: Alternation – Havisham, by Bernardini

Color: Dark Bay or Brown

Age: 3

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Serengeti Empress led from start to finish to earn a career-defining victory in May in the Longines Kentucky Oaks. Her best races have all come when she set the pace and opened a clear early lead, so expect Flavien Prat, who will ride her for the first time in the Distaff, to hustle Serengeti Empress right to the front. After the Oaks, Serengeti Empress finished a well-beaten second in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes, a close second to budding star sprinter Covfefe in the Grade 1 Longines Test Stakes, and a disappointing sixth when beaten by 14 ½ lengths in the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes Sept. 21 in her final Distaff prep. The best bet with Serengeti Empress might be to play her to win and/or on top of your ticket or else to completely toss her, depending on whether or not you believe the pace scenario will play out in her favor. Serengeti Empress has proved very brave with a clear lead in early stretch, but if she’s softened up throughout the race she might be going in the wrong direction late. Trainer Tom Amoss finished third in the Distaff in 1999 and 2000 with Heritage of Gold; Prat was third aboard Paradise Woods in the 2017 Distaff.


10. Mo See Cal (30-1)

Jockey: Paco Lopez

Trainer: Peter Miller

Owners: Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen

Career record: 16 starts – 5 wins – 4 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $253,664

Earnings per start: $15,854

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Do Dat Blues, by Lydgate

Color: Gray or Roan

Age: 4

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Winless in three previous stakes attempts, Mo See Cal will make her graded-stakes debut in the Distaff. She led from start to finish in a 5 ¼-length runaway Oct. 10 in an allowance-optional claiming race going a mile at Santa Anita. While she lacks the graded-stakes credentials of her opposition in a deep, accomplished field, the 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly could control the pace in the 1 1/8-mile race and has been dangerous before in that situation. Mo See Cal posted a career-top 108 Equibase Speed Figure for a front-running 10 ½-length win at Santa Anita in October 2018 and a 105 for her most recent start. I don’t view Mo See Cal as a win candidate, but if speed is really holding up well Breeders’ Cup weekend on the Santa Anita main track, a top-three finish at a monster price would not be a complete shocker for a trainer, Peter Miller, who has four Breeders’ Cup wins in the last two years for this ownership tandem. Paco Lopez finished fourth in the 2014 Distaff.


11. Blue Prize (6-1)

Jockey: Joe Bravo

Trainer: Ignacio Correas, IV

Owner: Merriebelle Stable

Career record: 22 starts – 9 wins – 8 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $1,592,253

Earnings per start: $72,375

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 117

Pedigree: Pure Prize – Blues for Sale, by Not For Sale

Color: Chestnut

Age: 6

Running style: Stalker/Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Blue Prize is a talented and consistent racemare capable of running a monster race on her best day. She did just that when reeling in multiple Grade 1 winner Elate to score a repeat win in the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes Oct. 6 at Keeneland. Blue Prize has finished in the top three in 20 or her 22 career starts with one of the two unplaced finishes a fourth, beaten by 1 ½ lengths, in last year’s Longines Distaff. She posted a 113 Equibase Speed Figure in this race last year, four points off her career-best 117, but she has not come close to that figure this year with her 108 for the Spinster her top number. Blue Prize was given six months off after last year’s Distaff, so perhaps she is just rounding into top form now. The 2019 Distaff will be her first time shipping to Southern California as she has raced exclusively on the East Coast and Midwest in 18 U.S. starts. Blue Prize was trainer Ignacio Correas IV’s second starter in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a year ago and his best finish to date. Joe Bravo was aboard Blue Prize in last year’s Distaff and also rode fourth-place Distaff finisher Sheer Drama in 2015.

Watch NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup starting with Future Stars Friday on Nov. 1 from 4-8 p.m. ET (NBCSN) and continuing with Championship Saturday on Nov. 2 from 3:30-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN until 8, NBC from 8-9).