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When the year began, champions Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver were the clear leaders of the division.
While neither will make it to this year’s World Championships at Del Mar, another star has taken their place.
With six graded stakes victories and one narrow defeat in seven starts in 2021, Letruska has already put together a remarkable season.
A win in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff on November 6 would put an exclamation point on her fantastic season, wrap up divisional honors, and maybe even be enough to take home Horse of the Year honors.
Standing in her way in her first trip out to California will be a solid cast of fillies and mares.
Her competition will include an old rival in Shedaresthedevil, the only horse to defeat her this year, as well as a new rival in Malathaat, who has been a dominant force among 3-year-old fillies this season.
Let’s take a look at the top contenders for the Grade 1 Breeder’s Cup Distaff, with only a few weeks to go before the big race.
Bred in Kentucky, Letruska began her career in Mexico for trainer Fausto Gutierrez and was a dominant force down there, winning all seven of her starts.
She had a few ups and downs in her first full year in America after arriving at the end of her 3-year-old season but still established herself as a graded stakes performer.
Beginning with a romp in the Grade 3 Rampart at Gulfstream Park last December, the speedy mare has been nearly untouchable for the better part of a year.
Her only loss in that stretch came by a diminishing head to the classy Shedaresthedevil in the Grade 2 Azeri back in March after a less than ideal trip.
The daughter of Super Saver has rattled off five big wins in a row since, establishing dominance among older dirt females. Her last prep, winning the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland sets her up perfectly for her biggest assignment to date.
While Letruska has already handled much of her Breeders’ Cup Distaff competition, this regally bred daughter of Curlin is one that she has yet to face.
Like the Distaff favorite, Malathaat could easily be undefeated over the past year.
A million-dollar yearling purchase by Shadwell Stable, the Todd Pletcher-trained filly has proven worth the expense.
Since breaking her maiden nicely in her career debut last October, she has run in nothing but stakes races and has smoothly moved to the top of her division.
Only an unlucky head loss in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, two starts back, stands in her way of a perfect record in seven career starts. Grade 1 wins in the Ashland, Kentucky Oaks, and Alabama have made her a standout among 3-year-old fillies.
While Letruska does it with speed, Malathaat has a strong closing punch to finish off races.
If not for Letruska, this 4-year-old daughter of Daredevil would be right in the heart of the Eclipse Award race.
The winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Indiana Oaks last year, she has been even more consistent this year.
Trained by Brad Cox, she counts a victory over Letruska in the Azeri among her four graded stakes wins this year.
Her only loss in 2021 came when third behind her top rival in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.
While they’ve split decisions in their first two meetings, Letruska was the overall better horse, but with the right trip you can’t discount Shedaresthedevil from defeating her again. One thing she does have going for her in the rubber match is Del Mar, having had a nice prep win over the track in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch.
Getting better all the time, this late-developing daughter of Candy Ride has improved to the point of being a dangerous sort in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Trained by Chad Brown, she did not debut until September of her 3-year-old season. Brought along slowly, she did not earn her first stakes victory until Breeders’ Cup weekend last year. That victory in the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm was a far cry from challenging Monomoy Girl at Keeneland but was another positive step in her development. After a solid runner-up, when edged by Bonny South, to begin her 5-year-old season, Royal Flag has continued to move up within the division.
Impressive rallying wins in the Grade 3 Shuvee at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Beldame at Belmont have sandwiched a less than a length loss to Letruska in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign. The late runner has never been better.
Late onto the graded stakes scene, this 3-year-old filly from the barn of Bob Baffert has done little wrong in five career starts.
A daughter of Into Mischief, she took on older females for the first time in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes earlier this month at Santa Anita and was very much up to the challenge.
The impressive 2 ¼-length victory proved that she deserves a shot against the best females in the land next month at Del Mar.
A $750,000 yearling purchase, she has plenty of speed to challenge Letruska early in the 9-furlong Distaff.
Perfect in three starts this year, she also has a nice win over the main track at Del Mar, having romped home an emphatic winner of the Grade 3 Torrey Pines against fellow 3-year-olds, two starts back.
The first on the list to have competed in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she actually ran a strong race to finish third behind Monomoy Girl at Keeneland.
The winner of the Grade 1 Alabama two years ago, this daughter of Quality Road has yet to break through against the best since that win, but has consistently kept top company.
Winless in four starts as a 5-year-old, she seems to be rounding back into top form for trainer Chad Brown.
Two starts back, she rallied well to lose by less than a length to Letruska in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, and aided by very little pace pressure, she rallied nicely to finish second to that same rival in the Spinster.
Fifth in 2019, and third last year, If she can get a stronger early pace to rally into, she can again make some noise in the Distaff.
The second nice 4-year-old filly from the barn of Brad Cox to make the list, this daughter of Munnings has joined Dunbar Road in the chase of Letruska in the last two Grade 1 races and has also rallied nicely each time.
While unable to get to the big favorite, she split decisions with Dunbar Road, and like that one might be a contested early pace away from doing something even better in the Breeders’ Cup.
A Juddmonte homebred, she threw in a clunker three starts back when heavily favored in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, but other than that, the two-time graded stakes winner has been a very consistent runner with a powerful late kick.
The third and final American 3-year-old to make the list, like Malathaat, she is an extremely well-bred daughter of Curlin.
Unfortunately, she has been unable to stay with Malathaat in the late stages of important races in all three of their meetings.
Having said that, the two-time stakes winner trained by Steve Asmussen tries hard every race, and has never run poorly in nine career starts.
She also earned her shot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff with her last performance, circling the field and coming home much the best in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes on September 25 at Parx.
That career-best effort demonstrates that she still may have her best races ahead of her.
The true wild card in this year’s field, this 3-year-old filly from Argentina earned her way into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff back on May 1 with a victory over a big field in the 1 ¼-mile Gran Premio Criadores (G1) on dirt at Palermo Racecourse in Buenos Aires.
Trained by Nicolas Martin Ferro, she is a half-sister to 2019 winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Blue Prize.
A winner of 1-of-3 races in 2020, she has developed into a top filly in South America with three consecutive victories this year.
A daughter of Equal Stripes, each of her three victories this year have come at the demanding distance of 10 furlongs.
It remains to be seen whether she can handle the best America has to offer, but Argentina has produced many top horses of the years who have found major success in the U.S.
This battling New Jersey-bred announced herself to the racing world back as a 2-year-old with a 20 ¾-length runaway in her debut against fellow statebreds.
It took her a while to find her groove in stakes company, but it came in time for a four-race winning streak which culminated with a win in the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks in 2019. As a 4-year-old, she elevated her game, including a smart score in the Grade 2 Beldame Stakes at Belmont.
Off that win, she attempted the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland but finished a well-beaten ninth in last year’s edition.
She once again has been a solid runner in 2021, with two more stakes wins bringing her total to six.
Second to Royal Flag in a try for a second straight Beldame win most recently, she is a nice mare who looks just a cut below the best in here.
Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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