U.S. horseracing is becoming a female-dominated world.
Fillies and mares have won Horse of the Year honors the past three years, matching the total they produced in the first 38 years of Eclipse Awards voting by industry executives and journalists. The three champions -- Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Havre de Grace -- faced the boys seven times during that stretch. They won five of those races, taking second and fourth place in the other two (in addition to winning 36 out of 48 times in events restricted to female horses).
While this year’s Horse of the Year title remains up for grabs, the focus is again on the fillies before the final marquee event of the racing season, the Breeders’ Cup, a 15-race program stretched over two days at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
Tomorrow’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic has a star-studded field that the males’ $5 million Classic can’t match the following day. For starters, the field contains two undefeated fillies, Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia. They are a combined 16-0, including a victory for each of them in the past two editions of the Breeders’ Cup two-year-old fillies race.
Then there’s Questing, a three-year-old speedball owned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum that became a Horse of the Year candidate when she romped to a nine-length win in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse in August.
None of those horses is the winner, though.
That prize will go to Royal Delta. She’s beautiful, she’s blue-blooded and she’s 100 percent racehorse. After capturing the Ladies’ Classic as a three-year-old last year, she was put up for auction in Lexington, Kentucky, where she sparked a bidding war that drove her sale price to $8.5 million.
Royal Delta began her four-year-old season for her new owners with two subpar efforts, including a failed trip to Dubai in March, before rebounding to win three of her past four.
Two of those victories were visually stunning performances that have no equal in U.S. dirt racing this year. She won those two -- in Kentucky and New York -- by a combined 17 1/2 lengths while under almost no urging from her rider, Mike Smith.
Look for her to rally late tomorrow to take the 1 1/8-mile (1.8-kilometer) Ladies’ Classic and vault to the top of Horse of the Year award discussion.
The boys should consider themselves lucky that she’s not in the $5 million Classic. She’d run by all of them too.
(David Papadopoulos, the team leader for Latin America markets coverage at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)
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