When a very deep and talented field of horses lines up to contest a major race, handicapping the event is often a matter of identifying the “now” horse – the horse that is rising to its peak at just the right time.
The $2 million Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 3 at Del Mar appears to be such a race. The 1 1/8-mile event has drawn a field of eight fillies and mares, two of them champions and seven of them Grade 1 winners. Strong cases can be made for #2 Stellar Wind, unbeaten in three Grade 1 races this year and runner-up in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, #6 Forever Unbridled, third in the 2016 Distaff and a perfect 2-for-2 this year including a win in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes, and #4 Abel Tasman, whose three Grade 1 wins this year include the Longines Kentucky Oaks.
But both Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled will enter the Distaff off lengthy layoffs, while Abel Tasman has been maintaining a high level of form throughout the year, but faltered slightly when second in the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes last time out.
In contrast, #5 Elate has shown steady and dramatic improvement throughout the year and might be ready to take yet another step forward in the Distaff. After winning her debut by 12 ½ lengths last November, Elate subsequently lost four straight races before turning things around this summer. Following an easy win in the Lighthearted Stakes at Delaware Park, Elate stepped up into Grade 1 company and lost the Coaching Club American Oaks by just a head to Abel Tasman despite a troubled trip.
With that effort behind her, Elate crushed next-out Grade 1 winner It Tiz Well by 5 ½ lengths in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, then faced off against older mares in the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park, in which she waited in traffic for much of the race before splitting horses in the homestretch and drawing off in eye-catching fashion to win by 8 ¼ lengths. The third- and fourth-place finishers, Eskenformoney and Verve’s Tale, came right back to run 1-2 in the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap at Belmont.
Since the Beldame, Elate has made a terrific impression training for the Breeders’ Cup, suggesting that she’s still in great form and still improving as she prepares for the biggest test of her career. The Distaff field doesn’t have a lot of pace on paper, but Elate has enough tactical speed to stay close to a modest pace and should be able to work out a perfect trip. Her trainer, Bill Mott, has won the Distaff a record-setting five times, and Elate appears poised to give him victory number six.
Since Elate should offer solid odds, we’ll focus our attention on betting her to win and not get too creative with exotic bets. But if you want to get bold and seek an even bigger score, let’s also consider playing her in the exacta with the speedy pair of #7 Paradise Woods and #1 Champagne Room, who have also been training well and figure to work out easy trips on the front end.
Wagering Strategy A
$20 to win on #5 Elate
Wagering Strategy B
$8 to win on #5 Elate ($8)
$2 exacta: 5 with 1,2,7 ($6)
$2 exacta: 1,2,7 with 5 ($6)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!