Commentary

Champions abound

Updated: September 27, 2012, 8:49 PM ET
By Gary West | Special to ESPN.com

The upcoming Ladies' Classic could be the race of the year, and it'll certainly be, by a championship metric, the greatest Ladies' Classic, or Distaff, in Breeders' Cup history. But it'll be run on a Friday afternoon, or early evening for those watching in the east, and possibly watching on a sports network whose total daily viewers wouldn't fill up Poughkeepsie.

It has been discomfiting to watch the Breeders' Cup pander to the Europeans year after year and dilute the quality of traditional events with more and more populist additions.

Bringing together three champions and possibly crowning a fourth, and maybe a fifth, this Ladies' Classic should be the cynosure of attention. It deserves prominent billing and its own place on the proscenium, along with an ineluctable presence on television. It certainly doesn't deserve to get lost amid the ultimate margaritas, sushi rolls, craft beers, pineapple martinis and sake bombs of Friday's happy hour.

Perhaps this isn't the worst Breeders' Cup solecism. It has been discomfiting to watch the Breeders' Cup pander to the Europeans year after year with, for example, the creation of juvenile turf races, and dilute the quality of traditional events with more and more populist additions. And to select the world stage as a place to experiment with banning furosemide -- well, to say that decision was unwise would flatter it. But aside from straining the national attention span, the two-day format of the Breeders' Cup, with its gender distinctions, discredits some of the best horses in the world by shoving them into supporting roles.

Complaining perhaps is inherent in our nature, an irremovable square in the sport's quilt. And so it's probably inevitable, even in the face of two of the best days of racing in the world, that there be a complaint. But the upcoming Ladies' Classic indeed deserves better than a Friday afternoon.

Just look at the horses aimed at the Ladies' Classic: Awesome Feather, the unbeaten champion juvenile of 2010 who won the recent Nasty Storm Stakes by more than 11 lengths, the 10th victory in her unblemished career; My Miss Aurelia, the unbeaten champion juvenile of 2011 who won the recent Cotillion Stakes at Parx, the sixth victory on her spotless resume; and Royal Delta, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2011 who's the even-money favorite in Saturday's Beldame at Belmont Park. And those are just the champions.

No other Ladies' Classic, or Distaff, ever has brought as many Eclipse Award winners together. Only two editions of the race have attracted as many as two North American champions: In the 1989 Distaff, Open Mind and Winning Colors, met, with neither able to defeat Bayakoa; and in 1999, Silverbulletday and Banshee Breeze met, but neither could handle Beautiful Pleasure.

Of course, the race often culminates a championship campaign and leads to an Eclipse Award, and if those who received their crowns later are included in the reckoning, then seven editions had three champions, the first of them being the 1988 Distaff, which many would argue remains the greatest of all Breeders' Cup races. Epitome was the only champion in the field. But, of course, the great Personal Ensign, who with a willful surge that amounted to a tsunami of volition got up in the final stride to win by the hairs on her nose and remain unbeaten, was named the year's champion older female; and Winning Colors, the Amazonian Kentucky Derby winner who very nearly held on in a display of her genuine talent, was named the champion 3-year-old filly.

It's not too early to get excited about what could be the race of the year …

Once, in 1997, four champions, counted as such in retrospect, met in the Distaff. Only Jewel Princess, however, was a reigning champion at the time. But Ajina, who won, would be named the year's champion 3-year-old filly; Hidden Lake, who ran seventh, would be named the champion older female; and Escena, who ran third, would become the next season's champion older female.

And this year's Ladies' Classic could surpass that. What if It's Tricky or Include Me Out wins the race? Wouldn't either then be the champion older female? It's Tricky, who's undefeated at Belmont Park, is 7-5 in the morning line for the Beldame. The runner-up in last year's Ladies' Classic, she defeated Royal Delta in the 2011 Coaching Club American Oaks, but she most vividly displayed her courage perhaps in the recent Personal Ensign at Saratoga. It's Tricky left the starting gate on her nose and took another stumbling step on her knees before regaining her feet; somehow she then managed to put herself back in the race and fight gamely to finish third. It was an effort that earned the admiration of everyone, including Bill Mott, the trainer of Royal Delta.

Include Me Out, the likely favorite for Saturday's Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita, has won four of her last five outings. And she has won three times at Santa Anita, where the locals have dominated past Breeders' Cup races on the main track. Yes, she, too, could earn a championship with a victory in the Ladies' Classic.

And what if Questing, the winner of the Alabama who narrowly lost in the Cotillion, wins the Ladies' Classic, or finishes second or third? Aren't she and My Miss Aurelia racing for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly?

It's not too early to get excited about what could be the race of the year, the Ladies' Classic, that'll come upon us quickly, on the first Friday of November. By the end of happy hour, there could be four or even five champions in the field.