In the first nine years of the Filly and Mare Turf, we've seen three different types of winners:
(1) A dominant European ships over and creams the field. Ouija Board did this twice ('04, '06), while Islington ('03) and Banks Hill ('01) each pulled this off once.
(2) A dominant Europeans was thwarted by a crafty ride from an underrated American-based horse. In 2005, Intercontinental put everyone to sleep and made Ouija Board the Grover Cleveland of the division. In 2002, Starine's jockey read the pace scenario perfectly and got first jump on Banks Hill, who should have repeated. For what it's worth, both of these winners were trained by Bobby Frankel.
(3) In an evenly matched field, an American-based horse validated a solid season. Soaring Softly and Perfect Sting won the first two editions over some fairly even fields, capping off great years. Lahudood was a small upset last year, but should have been much shorter off of a big effort in the Flower Bowl, where her talent became evident.
What should we expect this year? On paper this looks like the most competitive race of the weekend, with 8 Grade 1 winners. Let's dust off a method we haven't gone for since the Triple Crown: the countdown from least to most likely to win.
10. Sealy Hill. Canadien shipper had a nice race last out, which is also one of the worst in the field. She's a non-Grade 1 winner, and it's tough to see her getting her first here. Same holds true for...
9. Visit. Some Euros think she has a shot, and I guess she could hit the board, but I've got a sneaking suspicion she'll be ~8-1 with a much lower chance to do damage. Look elsewhere.
8. Vacare. An "in-between-horse": not fast enough to beat the boys in the Mile, not stout enough to go 10 furlongs. Also, she's a different horse when away from Keeneland, which is a track that certain horses clearly love more than most.
The Wrong Prep Winners
7. Dynaforce. Lahudood last year should warn us to toss Flower Bowl winners at our own risk, but there's a huge difference from stealing a 5-horse race over a bog versus wrangling with the best on a hard turf with a contested pace. Mott's a great trainer, but this horse is in a bit over her head here.
6. Folk Opera. Her last win in the EP Taylor was a wire-to-wire job. Can she do it here? I vote no. Dynaforce won't be that far off her tail, neither will Vacare, and they'll keep her running somewhat honest fractions. Think she wilts at the far turn.
5. Wait a While. Somehow, this horse perpetually manages to not run her best when it's a fuller field of top-shelf company. This sounds odd because she's got a bunch of G1's over her career and won an Eclipse 2 years ago, but check out those PP lines. All of her best races were either over short or overmatched fields. This is neither. She would not be a shock to win, but I think there are more logical plays.
4. Halfway to Heaven. She's definitely not in the category of Islington, Banks Hill and Ouija Board, and looking at her PP's, seems more like last year's Irish shipper, Passage of Time, or '03 shipper Yesterday. Both were fine horses and G1 winners, but neither were world beaters. In a lighter year, I'd lean more her way; here, I'm more inclined to look elsewhere for the winner.
3. Pure Clan. Has yet to hit a 3-digit Beyer, but that doesn't bother me much. She has a win at the distance, a G1, exits a very sharp prep where she had traffic trouble, and likes the track a lot. More importantly, she'll be 20-1. If you're looking to inflate prices on the race, here's your best shot.
2. Forever Together. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, I extolled her virtues in a previous post. She's got a devastating kick that's neat to behold. Here's her single negative: a lack of a win at the distance. Her kick has come at a mile and a mile and an eighth, and the question is whether or not it will be deadened in furlong 10. That's unclear. Here's one thing that's clear though:
1. Mauralakana. This girl LOVES 10 furlongs. Until her last race, she was clearly the best filly turfer in the States, and then ran a not-awful second to a loose-on-the-lead Dynaforce on a soft turf. You could argue she's over the top. I'd argue the last race is a fair prep and a tossout at the exact same time that will only serve to inflate her price. In the tradition of Perfect Sting and Soaring Softly, I like her to cap off a nice year with a good win here at decent odds (5-1?).
Picks: 1.Mauralakana 2. Forever Together 3. Pure Clan