By Margaret Ransom
The Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) is a nine-furlong main track race for fillies and mares, three years old and up. It is one of the seven original Breeders’ Cup championship races. It was known as the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic between 2008 and 2012, but reverted to its more preferred and rightful name for the 2013 renewal.
Like the rest of the Breeders’ Cup races, this one often decides who will be crowned both champion three-year-old female and/or champion older filly or mare. Initially it was contested at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles from 1984 to 1987, but was cut back to 1 1/8 miles in 1988 where it’s remained through this year.
Unlike many of the other Breeders’ Cup races, more than half of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners failed to earn year-end championship honors. In 1997 Sacahuista was the first, losing the Eclipse Award to stablemate North Sider. Other famous Distaff winners who didn’t earn the Eclipse Award in the same year include Hollywood Wildcat, who lost the trophy to Paseana in 1993; One Dreamer in 1994 lost to Sky Beauty; Adoration lost to three-time Eclipse winner and Horse of the year Azeri in 2003, while Ashado lost to Azeri after her Breeders’ Cup victory, but won the Eclipse the following year despite losing the Distaff to Pleasant Home. Royal Delta won the Breeders’ Cup in 2011 but didn’t earn an Eclipse as Havre de Grace did; Beholder won the 2013 Distaff, but lost the Eclipse to Royal Delta, yet won the Eclipse in 2015. She also won both the Breeders’ Cup and the Eclipse in 2016.
The great Zenyatta won the 2008 edition, then known as the Ladies Classic, and was champion older female. She won the following year’s Classic at Santa Anita over the synthetic, defeating a world-class field, and was again crowned 2009’s champion older female. And in 2010, despite a nose loss to Blame in the Classic, she was again champion older female and honored as Horse of the Year.
Last year, Japanese invader Marche Lorraine, under European jockey Oisin Murphy, stormed to victory in what was the second overall Breeders’ Cup win for the Land of the Rising Sun, the other by Loves Only You in the Filly and Mare Turf on the same card.
Four runners – Bayakoa (1989, 1990), Royal Delta (2011, 2012), Beholder (2013, 2016) and Monomoy Girl (2018, 2020) are the two-time winners of the Distaff. All earned Eclipse Awards during their careers.
Mike Smith has ridden five winners (1995, 1997, 2002, 2008 and 2012) and Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott has been represented by five winners as well (1997, 1998, 2010, 2012 and 2012).
Hall of Famer Inside Information still owns the record of 1:46.15 for the current distance when she won the 2005 edition at Belmont Park.