With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule underway for 2018, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Merriebelle Stable’s Blue Prize, winner of the Grade 2, $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap on June 16 at Churchill Downs to earn a guaranteed starting spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
A Group 1 winner in her native Argentina, Blue Prize has finished first or second in eight of her 10 starts in the U.S.
While she had been consistent in North America, Blue Prize’s breakout performance did not come until her final race as a 4-year-old in November 2017 when she rolled to an 8 ½-length romp in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs. That victory earned her a career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure, which was 13 points better than her previous top.
Blue Prize took a fairly significant step backward in her 2018 debut when she stalked a fast pace and faded to seventh – the lone unplaced finish of her 14-start career – in the Grade 2, 1/16-mile Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March off a 3 ½-month layoff.
She returned to top form in her next start, battling gamely for a neck victory in the 1 1/8-mile Top Flight Invitational Stakes at Aqueduct on April 15. The win earned her a 113 Equibase Speed Figure.
Blue Prize followed with a runner-up finish on a sloppy track at Pimlico Race Course in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 Allaire Du Pont Distaff Stakes after dueling for the early lead.
In the Fleur de Lis on June 16, Blue Prize cemented a place in the Nov. 3 Longines Distaff. She settled into an ideal stalking position behind an easy pace and reeled in front-running Farrell – a multiple Grade 2 winner – in the stretch en route to a 1 ½-length win.
The 110 Equibase Speed Figure for the Fleur de Lis was in line with her career numbers and could set her up to take another step forward in her next race. She has had two timed workouts since the Fleur de Lis victory.
The 1 1/8-mile distance of the Distaff looks like a real plus for Blue Prize, who owns three wins, three seconds and one third in seven starts at the distance. One of her two other wins came at 1 ¼ miles in a Group 1 race in Argentina.
She also seems to really like the main track at Churchill Downs, host of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, with two wins and two seconds at the Louisville track.
From a speed-figure perspective, at her best Blue Prize fits as a Distaff contender. The average winning Equibase Speed Figure for the Distaff for the last 20 editions has been 114.2 with a median of 114.5. The 10 most recent editions are very similar with a 114.8 average winning number and a 114.5 median. The highest winning Equibase Speed Figure was a 120 by Life Is Sweet in 2009.
My biggest concern for Blue Prize is the depth and talent of her possible opposition in the Distaff, which typically is a strong Breeders’ Cup race.
This year could be an exceptionally strong edition of the Distaff.
Let’s start with a powerful group of older females led by champions Unique Bella and Abel Tasman, plus Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes winner Selcourt, who is unbeaten in three starts this season; and multiple Grade 1 winner Elate, who was a dominant 3 ¼-length winner of the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap on July 14 in her first start in more than eight months.
From the 3-year-old filly division, the Distaff could draw Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl, unbeaten in four starts in 2018; Grade 1 winner Midnight Bisou; Wonder Gadot, the Kentucky Oaks runner-up who defeated males to win the Queen’s Plate on June 30; and Red Ruby, winner of the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Grade 3 Delaware Oaks in her two most recent starts.
That list shows the depth of the division, but more importantly the talent at the top in Unique Bella, Abel Tasman, Elate, and Monomoy Girl makes Blue Prize a longshot unless she takes a significant step forward.
Sure, there could be several defections by the time the Breeders’ Cup rolls around, but even if only four of the eight listed above make the race, the challenge will be a huge one for Blue Prize.
From the penultimate crop of Pure Prize, Blue Prize is one of 43 group or graded stakes winners for her sire. A son of elite sire Storm Cat, Pure Prize won the 2002 Kentucky Cup Classic Handicap and was the leading sire twice in Argentina.
Other notable runners by Pure Prize include 2015 Argentine Horse of the Year Hi Happy, winner of the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes on May 12; and U.S. Grade 1 winners Winning Prize, Pure Clan, and Pure Fun.
Blue Prize was produced by multiple Argentine group stakes winner Blues for Sale, by Not For Sale. Blues for Sale is a full sister (same dam [mother], same sire [father]) to stakes winner Cure for Sale, who placed in multiple graded stakes in the U.S. Beyond that, you have to go back to the fourth generation on the bottom half of this pedigree to find any stakes winners.