Using History to Handicap the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Distaff

Gambling
Monomoy Girl, above running second on the outside in light blue silks, won the 2018 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and is among the favorites for the 2020 edition Nov. 7 at Keeneland Race Course. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Get ready, racing fans! As usual, the $2 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff is shaping up to be among the most competitive and exciting races of the Nov. 6-7 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland.

The expected field for the 1 1/8-mile event is stacked with elite fillies and mares — approximately eight Grade 1 winners and one champion, to be exact. It’s a good thing handicappers never back away from a challenge, because choosing a horse to bet in the 2020 Distaff will be like choosing a favorite Beatles song. There are simply too many quality options to consider!

Fortunately, historical guidelines can help steer us in the right direction. By analyzing the recent history of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, we’ve identified seven tips and trends defining the profile of a typical Distaff winner.

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 10 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners were positioned in the front half of the field during the opening half-mile, and going back even further, only nine horses in history have closed from the back half of the pack to win. As is standard for dirt racing, early speed is an advantage in the Distaff.

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

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile, ¾-mile time

(track condition)

2019

Blue Prize

8th by 6 lengths (11 starters)

46.68, 1:10.83 (fast)

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)

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 Royal Delta in 2011-’12. Mott also sent out the Distaff runners-up Mushka in 2009 and Close Hatches in 2013, so when Mott has a runner in the Distaff, it’s wise to pay attention.

Favor the Favorites

Favored Untapable winning 2014 Distaff. (Eclipse Sportswire)

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-36 (42%) in the Distaff, and 26 of the 36 winners (72%) 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 Distaff, you need a horse who is ready to peak on the day of the championship—not four or five weeks prior. Six of the last 11 Distaff winners were beaten in their final prep run, proving that a last-out victory isn’t critical.

Bet Proven Grade 1 winners

A recent victory might not be critical, but that doesn’t mean the Distaff is ripe for conquest by unproven horses. Established Grade 1 winners have accounted for 13 of the last 14 editions of the Distaff, and the lone horse to defy this trend (Unrivaled Belle) had placed second three times at the Grade 1 level.

Don’t Overlook the 3-Year-Olds

While older mares typically attract a lot of attention in the Distaff, 3-year-olds have proved capable of holding their own against their elders, winning 11 of the 36 editions of the Distaff. In fact, at least one 3-year-old filly has finished in the Distaff trifecta every year since 2010, so if you’re overlooking the sophomores, you’re probably overlooking winning wagers.

Respect Runners Who Competed at Saratoga

Saratoga has been the most common proven ground for future Distaff winners, with seven of the last 10 winners of the Distaff competing at “the Spa” during the summer of their Breeders’ Cup-winning season. The Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes has been a particularly productive prep race, with Forever Unbridled (2017), Stopchargingmaria (2015), and Royal Delta (2012) using the race as a springboard to Distaff glory.

Conclusions

A deep field is expected to contest the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, led by the talented 5-year-old Monomoy Girl. Victorious in the 2018 Distaff, Monomoy Girl missed all of 2019 due to a variety of setbacks, but she’s bounced back as strong as ever in 2020. The champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 enters the Distaff 3-for-3 this season, with a victory in the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes Presented by Oak Grove Racing and Gaming at Churchill Downs the highlight of her campaign.

Monomoy Girl has tactical speed, is thoroughly proven at the Grade 1 level, and will be a short price in the betting, setting the stage for a second victory in the Distaff. But she figures to face a formidable challenge from the 3-year-old Swiss Skydiver.

Fresh off a victory over males in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, Swiss Skydiver boasts tactical speed coupled with tractability, a combination that has historically been a perfect fit for the Distaff. Victorious in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga during the summer, Swiss Skydiver will receive plenty of wagering support in the Distaff … unless she skips the race in favor of another run against males in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic.

If you do want to play a longshot, the improving 4-year-old Horologist is worth considering. After finishing third behind Monomoy Girl in the La Troienne, Horologist parlayed pace-tracking tactics into victory in the Grade 2 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park. Although Horologist has never won a Grade 1 race, she’s placed twice at the highest level and is conditioned by Bill Mott, with the latter fact alone being reason enough to respect Horologist’s chances.

Good luck with your handicapping, and enjoy the race!

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