Breeders' Cup Distaff up for grabs
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Todd Pletcher is taking three shots at winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff, a race with a full field of 14 fillies and mares lacking a true superstar like past champions Beholder, Royal Delta, Untapable and Zenyatta.
The trainer will saddle Curalina, Got Lucky and Stopchargingmaria - all Grade 1 winners - in the $2 million race that highlights the opening day of the world championships Friday in its first visit to Keeneland.
The Distaff suffered a blow when Untapable was withdrawn earlier in the week because of a fever.
Beholder, who won two years ago, had bypassed the Distaff for a chance at taking on male horses in the $5 million Classic on Saturday. But she was waylaid Thursday when bleeding was discovered after a gallop.
So that leaves Pletcher's trio along with slight 4-1 favorite Wedding Toast and 9-2 second choice Sheer Drama among the fillies and mares chasing the prize in the 1 1/8-mile race.
Pletcher won the 2004 Distaff with Ashado and will be seeking his eighth Breeders' Cup career win.
A year ago, Beholder didn't defend her title in the Distaff after spiking a fever.
This time, she was done in again by health reasons.
Beholder was the early 3-1 second choice in the Classic behind American Pharoah, who is running for the last time before retiring. Her absence allowed Peace and War to move into the full field of 14, but it takes away the horse expected to press the Triple Crown champion early in the race.
Trainer Richard Mandella attributed the bleeding to the fever Beholder developed when she arrived in Kentucky last week. He said the 5-year-old mare will be fine, but it would be too risky to run her Saturday.
''If I put her under the pressure of the race, she might do some serious damage,'' he said. ''There's obviously some irritated lung tissue there.''
Beholder arrived in Kentucky on Oct. 20 and the next day developed a temperature. Within a day, she appeared back to normal.
''She's an aggressive mare and she was too worked up on the plane shipping here and made herself sick,'' Mandella said.
Beholder is a two-time Eclipse Award winner who won the 2012 BC Juvenile Fillies and 2013 BC Distaff. She has a six-race winning streak for owner B. Wayne Hughes, who lives in Lexington. Mandella said Hughes plans to race her next year.
Beholder has 15 wins in 20 career starts, but she's never won outside her Southern California base. In two starts away from home, she finished fourth in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park in New York and second in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
''You could say we haven't had any luck shipping, but it's been something different every time,'' Mandella said.
Her withdrawal leaves Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens without a mount in the Classic, a race he won two years ago with Mucho Macho Man.
In Friday's other Breeders' Cup races:
-Europe-based Cymric is the early 7-2 favorite in the $1 million Juvenile Turf for trainer John Gosden.
-Liam's Map is the early even-money favorite for the $1 million Dirt Mile. Trained by Pletcher, the 4-year-old gray colt has just seven career starts, fewest of any of his 10 rivals.
-Harmonize brings a two-race winning streak into the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf as the 7-2 early favorite. Junior Alvarado will be aboard in the mile race for trainer Bill Mott.