by Joe Kristufek

Crowned Kentucky Oaks (G1) champions the past two years at Churchill Downs, Abel Tasman (2017) and Monomoy Girl (2018) loom as two of the early favorites for what should be an epic edition of Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) .

Held Saturday, November 3, at Churchill Downs , home of the Kentucky Oaks, the potential Distaff field is loaded from top to bottom, and several of the major players will be in action the next two weekends.

Ten of the 34 editions have been won by a three-year-old, and this year’s sophomore crop is certainly formidable.

Despite the absence of Oaks winner and divisional leader Monomoy Girl, Saturday’s Alabama (G1) at Saratoga appears top heavy. Headlined by four-time graded stakes winner Midnight Bisou (third in the Oaks), the 10-furlong dirt test also includes talented upstarts Talk Veuve to Me and She’s a Julie.

Next Saturday at Saratoga, Oaks runner-up Wonder Gadot is on target to take on the boys in the Travers (G1) and two of the top older females – Abel Tasman and Elate – are expected to lock horns in the Personal Ensign (G1).

A lot can happen between now and November 3, but if a 14-horse Breeders’ Cup Distaff were to be run today, who would be favored and what longshots might be worth a bet?

Let’s take a look…

HORSE                                   TRAINER                             MOST RECENT JOCKEY                 JOE’S ML

Abel Tasman*                         Bob Baffert                         Mike Smith                                        7-2

A strong second in last year’s Distaff as a sophomore, this four-year-old daughter of Quality Road ran against an undeniable inside bias when finishing a disappointing fourth in her seasonal debut as the odds-on favorite in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day . She got back on track in a big way in her follow-up start, destroying her overmatched competition in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont Park . Despite not competing in more than two months, she hasn’t missed a beat in her training. Blinkers helped, as did maturity. She’s really good.

What’s next: The August 25 Personal Ensign (G1)* on the Travers undercard at Saratoga.

Monomoy Girl                        Brad Cox                              Florent Geroux                                 4-1

The queen of the Kentucky Oaks has won five in a row, is eight for nine lifetime, and one could argue her victories have become increasingly more impressive. Speed is the name of her game, but she’s also shown the ability to stalk and pounce when the necessary. Her connections have campaigned her masterfully and It’s tough to poke holes.

What’s next: The September 22 Cotillion (G1) at Parx Racing.

Unique Bella*                        Jerry Hollendorfer                 Mike Smith                                        9-2

Can a horse who is nine for 12 lifetime be considered a disappointment? In the case of this four-year-old daughter of Tapit, the answer is a definite maybe. Never been sent off at odds higher than 6-5, she’s lost three of those races and a handful of the wins came against underwhelming competition. The mental side of her game still hasn’t caught up with the raw talent. If it ever happens, look out.

What’s next: Skipped Saturday’s Pacific Classic (G1) and is likely to await the September 30 Zenyatta Stakes (G1)* at Santa Anita.

Elate                                       Bill Mott                              Jose Ortiz                                            5-1

Following a strong second half to her three-year-old season, this daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was sent off as the 2-1 favorite in last year’s Distaff, only to finish an even fourth. Off more than eight months, she returned to win the Delaware Handicap (G2) going away, but beat absolutely nothing in the process. She outworked Travers (G1) contender Hofburg earlier this week, which signals the potential for a solid step forward. Her career has been filled with peaks and valleys, but she’s fresh and very capable.  

What’s next: The August 25 Personal Ensign (G1)* on the Travers undercard at Saratoga.

Midnight Bisou                     Steve Asmussen                   Mike Smith                                        10-1

She closed against the inside bias to be third in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), but Monomoy Girl solidly got the best of her on the square in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). Midnight Bisou has been the model of consistency and proven herself to be quite versatile, but I can’t help but think that the ceiling has been reached.

What’s next: August 18 Alabama (G1) at Saratoga.

Wonder Gadot                      Mark Casse                            John Velazquez                                10-1

Considered to be a bit of a hanger after losing six consecutive narrow decisions, this daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has responded positively to the addition of blinkers, posting consecutive resounding victories against Canadian-bred males. Mark Casse doesn’t have a worthy three-year-old to run in the Travers (G1) this year, so he’ll pass on a bid at the Canadian Triple Crown and give his best sophomore filly a crack against the boys. She’s gotten a lot of hype in recent weeks, but talk that she’s narrowed the gap on Monomoy Girl for divisional honors, at this moment in time, is just silly.

What’s next: August 25 Travers (G1) vs. the boys at Saratoga.

Talk Veuve to Me                  Rodolphe Brisset                    Julien Leparoux                             15-1

I had the pleasure of watching this sophomore daughter of Violence gallop to a crushing maiden win over six furlongs at Fair Grounds in March, and she immediately proved her one-turn class, finishing second in consecutive graded stakes behind top sprinter Mia Mischief and divisional leader Monomoy Girl. The connections picked out a fantastic spot to stretch her out around two turns, as she responded in kind to crush foes in the Indiana Oaks (G3). She was under wraps late in that one, but I’m still skeptical of her ability to defeat the best of her set over nine furlongs and farther. Saturday’s Alabama (G1) over 1 1/4 miles will tell us a lot.

What’s next: August 18 Alabama (G1) at Saratoga.

Separationofpowers            Chad Brown                             Jose Ortiz                                        20-1

One of the top two-year-old fillies of last year, she’s only run twice in 2018, but a gutsy victory in the Test (G1) over seven furlongs put her firmly back on the map. By Candy Ride out of an Empire Maker mare, her pedigree tilts toward route. Trainer Chad Brown wants to stretch her back out eventually, and the Cotillion (G1) and Beldame (G1) have been mentioned as options, but he indicated that there’s a good chance she will stick to sprinting this year. In Chad, I trust.

What’s next: Undecided

Dream Tree                                      Bob Baffert                          Drayden Van Dyke                     20-1 

The forgotten filly in the three-year-old division, she still has a chance to make a major impact moving forward. Undefeated from four starts, including a pair of wins over Midnight Bisou, she was forced off the Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail due to what Bob Baffert termed as a “minor injury.” She’s trained lights out in recent weeks, and will return at six furlongs. Much like Separationofpowers, there’s a good chance she’ll stick to sprinting the rest of this year with an eye to return to routing when the timing is better, but she’s too talented to leave off this Distaff (G1) contenders list.

What’s next: September 2 Prioress (G2) at Saratoga.

She’s a Julie                                       Steve Asmussen                 Ricardo Santana Jr.                 30-1

Steve Asmussen has always been a fan, but it’s taken this sophomore daughter of Elusive Quality some time to live up to his confidence in her. Last out in the Iowa Oaks (G3), she pressed the honest pace set by an overmatched foe, took over on the turn for home and won under wraps. The eye-popping win served notice that she’s ready to take the next step. Saturday could serve as her national coming out party.

What’s next: August 18 Alabama (G1) at Saratoga.

Ollie’s Candy                                       William Morey                     Tyler Baze                                  30-1

A relative unknown outside of California, where she’s performed equally well on dirt, turf and synthetics. She’ll run on grass in Saturday’s Del Mar Oaks (G1), but a return to the main track is certainly not out of the question. Don’t sleep on her.

What’s next: August 18 Del Mar Oaks (G1) on turf.

Blue Prize*        Ignacio Correas IV               Jose Ortiz                             30-1

Not a household name in the Distaff division, but this hard-knocking Argentinian-bred qualified for the Distaff (G1) with a win in the Fleur de Lis (G2) on Stephen Foster night. Faces the toughest task of her career against the likes of Abel Tasman and Elate in next Saturday’s Personal Ensign (G1). A point in her favor is the proven affinity for Churchill Downs, the host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

What’s next: The August 25 Personal Ensign (G1)* on the Travers undercard at Saratoga.

La Force                                               Patrick Gallagher                  Drayden Van Dyke              30-1

She’s just two for 21 lifetime, but last out in the Clement Hirsch (G1) this four-year-old daughter of Power put a bit of a scare into Unique Bella, making up considerable ground late before settling for second. That was the best effort of her career. Should we credit her, downgrade Unique Bella (who did lose a shoe in the race), both, or neither?  

What’s next: September 30 Zenyatta Stakes (G1)* at Santa Anita.

Chocolate Martini                               Tom Amoss                               Irad Ortiz Jr.                       50-1

This former $25,000 claimer is a great story, but she’s proven to be no match for the top three-year-old fillies. Churchill Downs is her home base, so it would be no surprise to see her led over on Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

What’s next: Unannounced

Others: Sinfonia Fantastica (Arg),* Farrell, Coach Rocks, Road to Victory, Kelly’s Humor, Eskimo Kisses, Unbridled Mo and Mopotism.

*Breeders’ Cup Distaff Win & You’re In qualifier or race