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Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Timing is everything

By Gary West
Special to ESPN.com

What's the most memorable race in the history of the Breeders' Cup championships? The answer, of course, is personal. For some, it might be Alysheba, "America's horse," as Tom Durkin described him, winning the Classic and for others perhaps Tiznow's turning back Sakhee or maybe the gripping Blame-Zenyatta showdown or the jaw-dropping victory by Arazi in the Juvenile.

They're all indelibly memorable. Many fans, however, would insist on Personal Ensign's defining victory in the 1988 Distaff, where, with overwhelming determination, she made a lapidary statement, running down Winning Colors in the final yards to win by a nose and conclude her career unbeaten. But how many fans would have seen that race if it had been run on a Friday? Not as many, surely, as saw it.

Isn't showcasing the sport's brightest stars on the largest and most visible stage one of the goals of the Breeders' Cup?

Isn't showcasing the sport's brightest stars on the largest and most visible stage one of the goals of the Breeders' Cup? If so, then any race that has profound championship implications and certainly one that has the potential to influence the debate about who's to be the Horse of the Year should be run on Saturday, when it will have not only the sport's full attention but also the largest audience.

The most memorable races in Breeders' Cup history, by almost any measure, all have been run on a Saturday. But one of the problems with the two-day format that has been in place since 2007 is that many of the best fillies and mares in the country and perhaps the world are relegated to racing on Friday's card, which, perhaps unavoidably, serves as something of a prelude to Saturday's fireworks.

This year at Santa Anita, the Friday Breeders' Cup program will also include the Marathon, the Juvenile Turf, and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. And so the Distaff, with its $2 million purse, will be the richest and, by far, the most significant race of the day. It'll be the indisputable feature. Still, it'll be the featured segment in a prelude, the bull shark in the aquarium, the tallest building in Tulsa. How many fans will see Royal Delta go for her third consecutive victory in the Distaff, where she'll take on Beholder, Close Hatches and possibly, even probably, Princess of Sylmar? Yes, some fans in the central and eastern time zones might stumble upon the Distaff while channel surfing for reruns of "The Big Bang Theory," but Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar deserve better.

A decision on whether Princess of Sylmar will run in the Distaff reportedly will wait on her workout this weekend, but she's a likely starter. The original plan for the filly called for a recuperative rest. The other original plan had called for a long rest after the Saratoga meeting, but that plan got shelved, and at Belmont she won the Beldame by two lengths, becoming the first filly ever to place such an adornment atop a season's accomplishments that already included consecutive victories in the Kentucky Oaks, the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama. As her owner, Ed Stanco, told The Blood-Horse, "she just keeps bouncing back."

Of all the Breeders' Cup races, the Distaff promises to be one of the most intriguing and exciting. It deserves to be run on Saturday.

Could Princess of Sylmar become the Horse of the Year? She has won six of her seven races this season while traveling and overcoming trouble and taking on every challenge. She has won the definitive races in her division, and when stepping up to confront her elders, she defeated the champion Royal Delta. So although it's unlikely and would probably depend on an upset in the Classic and a poor performance by Game On Dude coupled with a loss by Wise Dan in the Mile, yes, Princess of Sylmar could have a shot at Horse of the Year if she wins the Distaff.

Has she already clinched the Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old filly? Probably. No matter what happens at Santa Anita, that honor should already be hers based on her major stakes victories this year. But Eclipse voters can be fickle, some can seem blind to what preceded the Breeders' Cup, and some -- this probably needs to be said -- often seem oblivious to the sport's history. And so if Beholder leads throughout on a speed-biased Santa Anita surface to win the Distaff, would she then become the champion 3-year-old filly?

In any case, the Distaff will be weighty with significance and rife with championship implications. Of all the Breeders' Cup races, the Distaff promises to be one of the most intriguing and exciting. It deserves to be run on Saturday, Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar deserve the sport's brightest spotlight, and all those fans that can't or won't be watching on Friday deserve an opportunity to see the Distaff.