Picking a Breeders’ Cup Distaff Winner Using Recent History as the Guide

The field breaks out of the starting gate at the beginning of the 2017 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Every year, seemingly without fail, the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff draws a stellar field worthy of its championship status. The 2021 renewal is no exception, with a deep and competitive field shaping up for the Nov. 6 showdown at Del Mar.

Peer through the list of possible starters, and you’ll see at least 10 graded stakes winners and approximately half a dozen Grade 1 winners, including a couple of Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks heroines. Choosing a horse to bet in the 1 1/8-mile Distaff won’t be easy.

Fortunately, historical guidelines can help steer us in the right direction. After analyzing the 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, but so is tractability

It pays to bet fillies and mares with some degree of tactical speed. Seven 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) managed to lead after the opening half-mile. The rest were racing at least a length behind the pacesetter.



Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

(track condition)


Monomoy Girl

4th by 1.5 lengths (10 starters)

46.03, 1:09.94 (fast)


Blue Prize

8th by 6 lengths (11 starters)

46.68, 1:10.83 (fast)


Monomoy Girl

2nd by 1 length (11 starters)

47.57, 1:12.11 (fast)


Forever Unbridled

6th by 4 lengths (8 starters)

48.08, 1:12.50 (fast)



3rd by 3.5 lengths (8 starters)

47.16, 1:11.14 (fast)



6th by 1.75 length (14 starters)

47.28, 1:11.49 (fast)



6th by 4.5 lengths (11 starters)

46.73, 1:10.95 (fast)



3rd by 1.5 length (6 starters)

46.30, 1:10.28 (fast)


Royal Delta

1st by 1 length (8 starters)

45.81, 1:09.80 (fast)


Royal Delta

4th by 3 lengths (9 starters)

49.00, 1:13.72 (good)

Bet Bill Mott and Brad Cox

Cox (Keeneland/Coady Photography)

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. His lifetime record in the Distaff stands at five wins, two seconds, and one third from 15 starters—a 33% win rate.

Another trainer with an impressive Breeders’ Cup Distaff resume is Brad Cox. Winner of the 2020 Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer, Cox’s Distaff record stands at a perfect 2-for-2 thanks to victories from Monomoy Girl in 2018 and 2020.

Favor the favorites

While there have been some major upsets in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, most notably Spain at 55-1 in 2000, overall the race has been dominated by favorites and short-priced contenders. Favorites have gone 16-for-37 (43%) in the Distaff, and 27 of the 37 winners (73%) started at less than 5-1 odds. In addition, 24 of the last 30 horses (80%) 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 in their last prep race. Six of the last 12 Distaff winners were beaten in their final start before the Breeders’ Cup, demonstrating 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 racehorses. Established Grade 1 winners have accounted for the winners of 14 of the last 15 editions of the Distaff, and the lone horse to defy this trend (Unrivaled Belle) had placed second three times at the Grade 1 level.

Malathaat, a 3-year-old contender for 2021 Distaff (Chelsea Durand/NYRA)

Don’t overlook 3-year-olds

While older females typically attract a lot of attention in the Distaff, 3-year-old fillies are more than capable of holding their own against their elders, winning 11 of the 37 editions of the Distaff. In fact, at least one 3-year-old filly has finished in the Distaff trifecta in 10 of the last 11 years, so if you’re overlooking the sophomores, you’re probably overlooking winning wagers.

Respect horses who competed at Saratoga

Saratoga has been the most common proven ground for future Distaff winners, with seven of the last 11 Distaff winners 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.


When viewed through a historical lens, the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff features two key contenders for victory. On the one hand, you have the sensational 5-year-old Letruska, a pure front-runner with four Grade 1 wins under her belt this season. On the other hand, you have the almost unstoppable 3-year-old Malathaat, who boasts three Grade 1 wins from four starts this year.

Letruska and Malathaat were both seen in action at Saratoga during the summer, with Letruska nabbing the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti and Malathaat claiming the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes. Both will be short prices in the Distaff wagering. The question is, which one is more likely to prevail?

History suggests Letruska may have a slight advantage, if only because she has more tactical speed than Malathaat and stands to work out a more favorable trip. The fact Letruska is very likely to start as the betting favorite over Malathaat is another historical trend in her favor. But it’s worth noting all of Letruska’s U.S. graded stakes wins have been achieved in gate-to-wire fashion, which hasn’t been the most successful running style in recent editions of the Distaff.

Another contender worth considering is Dunbar Road, winner of the 2019 Alabama Stakes and third in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The 5-year-old mare is 0-for-4 this season, but she’s been gradually rounding back into peak form. After finishing less than a length behind Letruska when fourth in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga, Dunbar Road improved to second behind Letruska in the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland. Since a recent victory isn’t critical for success in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Dunbar Road might have upset potential if she takes another step forward at Del Mar.

We must also mention Shedaresthedevil, the 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner. A two-time Grade 1 winner this season, the 4-year-old filly has tactical speed coupled with tractability and is conditioned by Brad Cox, who will be seeking a third victory from as many starters in the Distaff. It’s worth noting Shedaresthedevil is the only horse to defeat Letruska this year, snatching top honors by a head in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes during the winter.

Good luck with your handicapping, and enjoy the race!

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!