Watching Australian racing late Friday night (Saturday there), it struck me again how very backward American racing is in regards to both how often our top horses run and how we segregate the sexes. For example, at Royal Randwick, no one so much as blinked an eye that top Southern Hemisphere two-year-old Sebring (More Than Ready-Purespeed, by Flying Spur) not only won his second grade 1 race in seven days—the $400,000 AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes (after taking the $3.5 million Golden Slipper last weekend)—but also that plans are for him to complete the Triple Crown by running in the G1 Champagne Stakes NEXT weekend. Yes, that’s three G1 races in three weeks, albeit at 6, 7 and 8 furlongs respectively.
And it was hardly earth-shattering news that the second and third place horses behind him in the Sires’ Produce Stakes were fillies—Samantha Miss (Redoute’s Choice-Milliyet, by Zabeel) and Love and Kisses (Encosta de Lago-Fair Embrace, by Strategic). In last weekend’s Golden Slipper, another filly, Portillo (Red Ransom-Snowdrift, by Polish Precedent) had finished third. In fact, over the past 8 years, 6 fillies have won the Golden Slipper, the premier two-year-old race in Australia: Forensics (2007), Miss Finland (2006), Polar Success (2003), Calaway Gal (2002), Ha Ha (2001), and Belle du Jour (2000). Recent filly winners of the AJC Sires Produce Stakes include Camarilla (2007), Fashions Afield (2005), Victory Vein (2002), and Hasna (2003)—the latter particularly of interest to me since her second dam Americanrevelation is by Foolish Pleasure. Hasna also won the G1 Champagne Stakes, thus all three Australian Triple Crown races in 2003 were won by fillies! Same thing happened in 2002 when Victory Vein also won the Champagne and Calaway Gal took the Golden Slipper.
So, it begs the question, why don’t we race fillies and colts together more often as two- and three-year-olds? It has nothing to do with innate physicality, mentality, or ability. Thus, although she hasn’t faced males yet, Eight Belles should not be counted out when it comes Derby day. What does she offer?:
1. She’s BIG—physically. 16.2 hands. There’s nothing lady-like or delicate about this filly. The big field will hardly intimidate her.
2. She’s well-raced. Unlike many of the male Derby contenders, she’s already run 9 times (all but one were 1 mile or over), with 5 wins since last September. That’s more races than any other Derby contender. She’s been out of the money once. And her last race provided a needed lesson on digging deep down and going all out as she was challenged late by Alina in the G2 Fantasy.
3. She’s well-bred. Granddaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, by his son Unbridled’s Song, and a great-granddaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer, Eight Belles is out of a Dixieland Band mare Away. Her second dam Be a Prospector is by Mr. Prospector; she’s bred 4 x 3 to Mr. Prospector, and 5 x 4 x 5 to Raise a Native. Her third dam Belonging (by Elusive Native) was a daughter of the great champion handicap mare Straight Deal (by Hail to Reason).
4. She’s run on nothing but good old-fashioned dirt—at Delaware, Fair Grounds and Oaklawn. While not Churchill Downs, these tracks are much like it in many ways, so let’s see her work over the surface this week. In addition, according to the Daily Racing Form speed figures—along with Gayego (103), Big Brown (106), Z Fortune (102), and Recapturetheglory (102)—she is one of only five horses who has posted at least a 100 in a race this year over 8 furlongs on dirt. That alone should impress. And, unlike Z Fortune and Recapturetheglory, all four of her races this year have at least a 90. Other than Gayego and Big Brown, only the grass horse Cowboy Cal and all-weather tracker Bob Black Jack have posted at least 90 in all their races this year.
5. She’s won 4 straight. Not a bad race in the bunch. All on fast tracks, but, should the track come up muddy on Derby day, Eight Belles has a 402 wet track Tomlinson.
6. She’s trained by Larry Jones. Not only does this man have some of the best fillies training this year, but he gets on these horses himself in the morning—that fact alone should give credence to Eight Belles’ fitness level. And then there’s Hard Spun, last year’s tough little horse that could—what a gritty competitor. Larry Jones knows what it takes to have a Triple Crown worthy horse, and if he believes in Eight Belles, why not?
Physically, mentally and ability-wise, Eight Belles shouldn’t be discounted. The post position—now that will be the crux.
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