A champion, and possibly champions, will surely be determined on Saturday at Del Mar when 11 talented fillies and mares face off in the $2 million Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
The 1 1/8-mile race dates back to 1984 and has long played a pivotal role in determining which fillies and mares earn Eclipse Awards for champion older dirt female and champion 3-year-old filly. Certainly, the 2021 Distaff is stacked with the key contenders for both titles, stamping the race as a truly championship-defining event.
The favorite to earn champion older dirt female honors is #6 Letruska, who enters the Distaff as a division standout. The daughter of Super Saver is a head away from being undefeated in seven starts this season, including consecutive victories in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes, Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Stakes, Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti, and Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes.
Letruska’s key weapon is her front-running speed — all six of her wins this season have been achieved in gate-to-wire fashion. She’s defeated almost every other top female in her division, including four of her Distaff rivals. Surely, she’ll post another pacesetting victory in the Distaff?
Well … not necessarily. Letruska has been sensational this year, but the Distaff looms as her toughest test date to date. For starters, she’s facing several speedy rivals, including Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes winner #1 Private Mission, 2020 Grade 2 Beldame Stakes winner #7 Horologist, and 2020 Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks winner #8 Shedaresthedevil. The latter filly is the only one to defeat Letruska this year, leading all the way to win the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes by a head on Mar. 13.
Since Letruska appears to be a need-the-lead type, the presence of three fast opponents is a concern. Letruska may have to run faster than usual to secure the early lead, which could cause her to weaken in the stretch drive.
There are two other concerning factors as well. In terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures, Letruska doesn’t hold much of an edge over her Distaff rivals — several of Letruska’s challengers have run almost as fast or equally fast on their best days. Letruska’s form lines also hint she may have peaked during the spring and summer, with her most recent victories in the Personal Ensign and Spinster being a bit less flashy and decisive.
Letruska is definitely capable of winning the Distaff, but as an 8-5 favorite on the morning line, she might be worth opposing for betting purposes. The question is, which of Letruska’s 10 challengers is most likely to spring a surprise?
Assuming the early pace is fast enough to compromise Letruska and the other pace players, #3 Malathaat is an obvious choice to steal top honors. The daughter of Curlin is a head away from being undefeated in seven starts, including stretch-running victories in the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes, Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks, and Grade 1 Alabama Stakes this season. Malathaat is looking to wrap up champion 3-year-old filly honors and is just as fast as Letruska on the Brisnet speed rating scale, so she would be a primary beneficiary if a destructive pace unfolds.
But while Malathaat’s credentials are solid, we’re going to think outside the box with an even bigger longshot: #11 Dunbar Road. Some might be hesitant to bet a 5-year-old mare who hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since July 2020, but Dunbar Road has long been capable of competing at this level — she finished third in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Distaff — and arrives at Del Mar in deceptively strong form.
Case in point? Just check out Dunbar Road’s last two races. In the Personal Ensign, she launched a strong rally from the back of the pack to finish fourth, beaten less than one length by Letruska. Then in the Spinster, Dunbar Road rallied from behind slow fractions to finish second behind Letruska, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths while gaining ground steadily through the final eighth of a mile.
Dunbar Road has been steadily improving this season and doesn’t need a big step forward to challenge Letruska for supremacy. If she gets a fast pace to work with on Saturday, Dunbar Road may be capable of turning the tables and springing a 15-1 surprise.
We’ll play the Distaff accordingly and boldly bet Dunbar Road on top of all our tickets. If you’re wagering on a small budget, a win bet on Dunbar Road is the way to go, with a small exacta play thrown in for good measure. But if you have more capital to spend (and if you want to seek a big payday), the trifecta is well worth pursuing.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$7 to win on #11 Dunbar Road
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 10th race, $7 to win on 11
$1 exacta: 11 with 3,6,8 ($3)
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 10th race, $1 exacta 11 with 3,6,8
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$12 to win on #11 Dunbar Road
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 10th race, $12 to win on 11
$2 exacta: 11 with 3,6,8 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 10th race, $2 exacta 11 with 3,6,8
$1 trifecta: 11 with 3,6,8 with 2,3,5,6,8 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 10th race, $1 trifecta 11 with 3,6,8 with 2,3,5,6,8
Good luck, and enjoy the race!