Using History to Handicap the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff

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Get ready, racing fans! The $2 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff is shaping up to be among the biggest highlights of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park.

The 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares is expected to attract a high-quality and competitive field of established Grade 1 stars. Virtually every corner of the U.S. racing scene will be represented as horses from California, New York, and Kentucky square off in a battle for divisional supremacy.

Looking to get a head start handicapping this exciting showdown at Santa Anita? We’ve got you covered! By analyzing the history of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, we have identified seven tips and trends to point you in the direction of the most likely winner when the race is held for the 36th time Nov. 2.

Let’s dig in and examine the data:

Tactical Speed is an Asset

It pays to back a horse with some degree of tactical speed. Eight of the last ten Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners were in the front half of the field after the opening half-mile of the race, and going back even further, only eight horses in history have closed from the back half of the pack to win the Distaff. In other words, like in most dirt races, early speed tends to be an advantage.

At the same time, you want to play a horse with the ability to relax off the lead if necessary. Over the last decade, only one Distaff winner (Royal Delta in 2012) was leading after the opening half-mile. The rest were racing at least a length behind the pacesetter.

Year Winner Position after first 1/2-mile ½-mile & ¾-mile times

(track condition)

2018 Monomoy Girl 2nd by 1 length (11 starters) 47.57, 1:12.11 (fast)
2017 Forever Unbridled 6th by 4 lengths (8 starters) 48.08, 1:12.50 (fast)
2016 Beholder 3rd by 3.5 lengths (8 starters) 47.16, 1:11.14 (fast)
2015 Stopchargingmaria 6th by 1.75 length (14 starters) 47.28, 1:11.49 (fast)
2014 Untapable 6th by 4.5 lengths (11 starters) 46.73, 1:10.95 (fast)
2013 Beholder 3rd by 1.5 length (6 starters) 46.30, 1:10.28 (fast)
2012 Royal Delta 1st by 1 length (8 starters) 45.81, 1:09.80 (fast)
2011 Royal Delta 4th by 3 lengths (9 starters) 49.00, 1:13.72 (good)
2010 Unrivaled Belle 5th by 5 lengths (11 starters) 49.09, 1:13.75 (fast)
2009 Life Is Sweet 8th by 17.5 lengths (8 starters) 45.78, 1:09.74 (fast)

Bet Bill Mott

No trainer has enjoyed more success in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff than Bill Mott, who has won the race five times with four different horses. After nabbing back-to-back editions with Ajina in 1997 and Escena in 1998, Mott returned to the Distaff winner’s circle with Unrivaled Belle in 2010 and subsequently sent out future Hall of Famer Royal Delta to win the race in 2011 and 2012. Mott also sent out the Distaff second-place finishers Mushka in 2009 and Close Hatches in 2013, making it clear that when Mott has a runner in the Distaff, it’s wise to pay attention.

Avoid Bob Baffert

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won countless major races through the years, but surprisingly, he’s 0-for-7 in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Only one of his starters has even cracked the top four, that being Abel Tasman, who rallied to finish second in 2017.

Bet the Favorites

While there have been some very big upsets in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, most notably Spain at 55.90-1 in 2000, overall the race has been dominated by favorites and short-priced contenders. Favorites have gone 15-for-35 (43%) in the Distaff, and 26 of the 35 winners (74%) went off at less than 5-1. In addition, 26 of the last 30 horses to finish in the Distaff trifecta started at single-digit odds.

A Recent Victory Isn’t Critical

To win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, you need a horse that is ready to peak on the day of the championship – not four or five weeks prior. Six of the last ten Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners were beaten in their final prep run, proving that a last-out victory isn’t critical.

Don’t Overlook the 3-Year-Olds

While older mares typically attract a lot of attention in the Distaff, 3-year-olds have proven more than capable of holding their own against their elders, winning 11 of the 35 editions of the Distaff. In fact, at least one 3-year-old filly has finished in the Distaff exacta every year since 2010, so if you’re overlooking the sophomores, you’re probably overlooking winning wagers.

Bet Fillies Exiting the Cotillion Stakes

The Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing has been a key prep race for the Distaff in recent years. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies has produced 10 of the last 27 trifecta finishers in the Distaff, including two of the last five winners.

Conclusions

A strong field is shaping up for the 2019 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, with the Grade 1 winners Midnight BisouElateParadise WoodsBlue PrizeStreet BandSerengeti Empress, and Dunbar Road all looming as possible starters.

The 4-year-old Midnight Bisou is 7-for-7 this year and figures to be clearly favored in the Distaff, but if you want to think outside the box, history suggests Elate and Street Band could be dangerous rivals. Elate was beaten in the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes on Oct. 6 but is trained by Bill Mott, while the 3-year-old Street Band was an impressive winner of the Cotillion Stakes on Sept. 21 at Parx Racing.

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).