Distaffers: The stars of the show

The 25th running of the Breeders’ Cup took place on October 24 and 25 at Santa Anita. For the first time that year, the races for females and male were segregated, with the distaff races taking place on Friday, and the rest of the races run on Saturday. In another historical departure (and another departure from history), the Breeders’ Cup Distaff was replaced with the Ladies’ Classic.

The cries raised as a result of these changes were long and loud; though muted now, those cries have not ceased (at least mine haven’t). But it’s a done deal: the Distaff is gone, and the sex-restricted races take place on Friday.

If one believes that the racing gods are female, one might be tempted to think that they had a plan of their own in response to the Breeders’ Cup changes, because beginning in 2008, the distaffers have been the star of the Breeders’ Cup show.

In 2008, both Zenyatta and Goldikova made their Breeders’ Cup débuts: Zenyatta in the Ladies’ Classic, Goldikova in the Mile. They both won, though at the time, no one could have known the effect that they would have on this event in ensuing years.

Zenyatta’s 2008 Ladies’ Classic win. Photo credit Breeders’ Cup Ltd.

Goldikova winning her first Mile. Photo credit Breeders' Cup Ltd.

Zenyatta, of course, would go on to become the first female to win the Classic in 2009 and to finish second by a head last year in a race that will challenge the 1988 Distaff as the most exciting Breeders’ Cup race ever. Goldikova repeated her wins in the Mile in 2009 and 2010, becoming the only horse to win a Breeders’ Cup race in three consecutive years. She’s back this year to try to add a fourth Mile victory to her already historical résumé.

Zenyatta winning the 2009 Classic. Photo credit Breeders’ Cup Ltd.
Goldikova and Olivier Peslier winning their historic third consecutive Mile. Photo credit Breeders’ Cup Ltd.

But she’s not the only female in the spotlight this year. For the third consecutive year, a female will race in the Classic, and more than a few people think that Havre de Grace will follow in Zenyatta’s footsteps to the Classic winner’s circle. She is the star of the Classic pre-game show.

I am not alone in wishing that the Distaff would make a comeback, or that the marquee races for fillies and mares would find their way back to the Saturday schedule.  But those of us who railed against the marginalization of the distaffers that began in 2008 can take no small measure of satisfaction in the prominence of fillies and mares at racing’s highest levels and in the racing and mainstream press. These sisters are indeed doing it for themselves.

Click on any photos to enlarge, and please don’t re-post them, as they are copyrighted and used with permission.

4 thoughts on “Distaffers: The stars of the show

  1. I’ve been watching the Breeders’ Cup (and getting the Blood Horse) since 1994. I’m a little less obsessive now than when I before I was done with school, but I still follow races throughout the year and go to the track once in a while.

    However, since the BC split, I don’t think I’ve watched more than a handful of its races: mostly the ones featuring impressive fillies and mares like you mention. I’m still a little ticked about the second-class treatment for female races and uninterested in the expanded (watered down?) lineup of races. I’m still not 100% on watching this year’s BC, but I’ll probably have to at least watch Havre de Grace get some deserved time in the spotlight on Saturday.

    Big thumbs down to the BC for the recent changes. Big part of me not being quite as big of a fan as I used to be.

  2. What I do think may very well wind up happening if we see the Breeders’ Cup go to a full-bore night event with what has been to me an expected return to NBC in 2014 for the BC is that “Ladies Day” would be replaced by “Juvenile Friday,” with all five Juvenile events plus the Filly-Mare Sprint being run on Friday night. The first four events (Juvenile Sprint, Juvenile Fillies Turf, Filly-Mare Sprint and Juvenile Turf) would likely be on NBC Sports Network from 7:00-10:00 PM Eastern Time with the Juvenile Fillies and Juvenile on NBC in a one-hour prime time broadcast there from 10:00-11:00 PM ET. The Ladies Classic and Filly-Mare Turf move to Saturday in this format with that day on NBC most likely from 5:00-11:00 PM ET, filling up all of Saturday prime time for NBC, which is the main reason why I see NBC getting the BC back in 2014 once ESPN’s contract expires.

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