The Breeders' Cup Distaff may only have a field of six, but they have created perhaps the most riveting puzzle in the entire series this year.
Champions Royal Delta and Beholder pointed for the race early, which scared off the first wave. Then when majority owner Ed Stanco and trainer Todd Pletcher announced that Princess of Sylmar was heading to the Distaff, it just about guaranteed a short field.
Besilu Stables' Royal Delta, who drew post 4 and is the 8-5 morning-line favorite, scintillated at Santa Anita Park last year when she led almost from the outset to capture the 2012 Ladies' Classic, now back to its original name of the Distaff. That gave her back-to-back wins in the race for trainer Bill Mott. Another win in 2013 would put her in exclusive company with only Goldikova as a three-time Breeders' Cup winner.
Mike Smith, who rode Royal Delta in last year's Breeders' Cup and is the leading jockey in Breeders' Cup wins with 17, returns in the saddle. He has supreme confidence in the two-time Eclipse Award champion.
"When Billy [Mott] really gets her tuned up for a race like the Breeders' Cup, she's really ready to take it to them," Smith said. "She'll be 110% ready."
Royal Delta, as the leading older female, probably could have scared away much of the competition all by herself. But as the year progressed, the 3-year-old filly division developed into one of strongest seen in some time.
Beholder resides in the always-powerful Richard Mandella barn, he of the four-race Breeders' Cup juggernaut in 2003. She drew post 5 and was listed at 5-2 on the morning line. Gary Stevens, who won his first of two Distaffs in 1994, will ride Beholder.
"I'm happy because I didn't want the number 1," said Mandella. "Not that it would have been a big problem, but she's aggressive and better off with an option."
In 2012, Beholder, owned by B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm, captured the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies en route to her own Eclipse Award as the year's champion 2-year-old filly. She has the home-field advantage and loves Santa Anita. In six starts at the track, Beholder has won five races -- four of them Grade 1 events -- and finished second the other time, her first out of this year.
The only other time Beholder lost this year came in the Longines Kentucky Oaks, when she finished second to Princess of Sylmar. Since that race, Princess of Sylmar has been perfect, adding the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama Stakes against 3-year-olds at Saratoga and then defeating Royal Delta and three others in the Beldame Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park. Princess of Sylmar drew post 6 and is the second choice on the morning line at 9-5.
The last time Princess of Sylmar lost came in the April 6 Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct. She failed to catch front-running Close Hatches, who also joins the Distaff field. Another Mott trainee and owned by Juddmonte Farms, Close Hatches, who will start from post 3, is coming off two strong victories in the Mother Goose Stakes and Cotillion Stakes.
Pletcher admits that Authenticity will "need to have the race of her life" to win the Distaff, and she has drawn post 2. But he and owner Satish Sanan, who races in the name of Padua Stables, believe the 6-year-old mare deserves her chance. A graded stakes winner at Churchill Downs and Saratoga, Authenticity proved she likes Santa Anita with a solid second to Beholder in the Zenyatta Stakes.
Street Girl rounds out the Distaff field and drew the rail. Owned by the Rontos Racing Stable Corporation and trained by Manuel Azpurua, she won the April 13 Calder Oaks and most recently finished third to Close Hatches in the Cotillion.