At least four races have proven to be important preps in the ten-year history of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d guess: the TCA at Keeneland, the Ballerina at Saratoga, the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, and the Presque Isle Downs Masters. It is notable that three-year-old fillies are 0 for 28 in the history of the race.
This stat casts a shadow on this year’s overwhelming favorite in the betting, Unique Bella. Bella looks a potential superstar in the making. Following a defeat on her debut, she has blown away everything in her path. Earlier in the year she was the Kentucky Oaks favorite before being sidelined by a minor injury. Upon her return to the races, she once again dominated the field in the LA Woman stakes at short odds. Her work has been spectacular since, though it remains to be seen how she’ll handle the step up against her elders here. She’s a likely winner no doubt, but at close to even money, there are sure to be others in this field who offer more value. The three-year-old stat isn’t the only reason to oppose her – she simply doesn’t have enough of an edge on form or figures to be that short a price.
Beyond the clear favorite, the race suddenly becomes wide open. Let’s continue our analysis with a look through the aforementioned prep races. Note that with Unique Bella representing so much of the market, many in this field are likely to offer value at anything over 10-1, and from there it becomes a matter of the draw and personal preference as we get closer to the day.
The TCA was won by Finley’sluckycharm and she impressed in victory at short odds despite a poor break. She brings consistent sprint form to the table, and has run well enough at this race’s distance of seven furlongs, but has something prove at the Grade 1 level. She’s another to consider at double-digit odds.
The Ballerina is often a key pointer and a number of the likely F&M Sprint field took part. By The Moon came out on top and looks an improved performer this year having managed to only finish fifth in the F&M Sprint last year. It should be noted that the inside was good that day and the pace of that race was a crawl, therefore handing it to her on a silver platter. She’s not really a front runner by nature and still made the lead. Things project to be a lot more contested here.
A Ballerina also-ran with a strong resume is Curlin’s Approval. She was terrific in the Grade 2 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream the time before, causing her to take a lot of money in Saratoga. The suspicion is that the race can be ignored. She broke poorly, the pace was a crawl, and she ended up wide on that track that was favoring the inside. Last time, back in Florida, she once again made mincemeat out of an overmatched field. She could be a Gulfstream horse-for-course, or she could be really good and peaking at the right time and worth a bet. Let price be your guide once again with odds of 10-1 or so being where she starts to appeal.
Highway Star finished second in the Ballerina and went on to win the Grade 3 Gallant Bloom. She was off a lay-off in the Ballerina and had previously run well behind Songbird in the Ogden Phipps Stakes is consistent. There appears to be plenty of speed in here and she has the closing ability to make herself a factor late.
Paulassilverlining had the best-looking record against the other members of the field before bombing in the Ballerina last time out. In searching from an excuse, while she was on the good part of the track, perhaps she resented being rated of the slow pace and just didn’t fire as a result. She’d reeled off four in a row before that and rates a long look under what will surely be different circumstances this time around.
One of Paula’s wins came in the Humana Distaff in the slop, a race also contested by last year's Filly and Mare sprint winner, Finest City, as well as Carina Mia. Finest City has gone off form since, with two slow-ish thirds, and looks to have a lot of work to do to find herself back in the winner’s circle here in 2017.
Carina Mia represents a conundrum. She was second to Highway Star in the Gallant Bloom and third in the Ballerina. She always attracts a lot of money, and typically runs well but has yet to notch her signature victory, and she doesn’t have a whole lot of excuses either. She can’t be called out of it, but it figures more likely one of the others in this group will step up more than she will.
Ami's Mesa keeps winning, albeit on synthetics, and her last win came in the Presque Isle Downs Masters last time - Groupie Doll, Musical Romance and Dubai Majesty have all used this race as a springboard in the past. She brings a streak of four wins to this (ranging from 6.5 to 8.5 furlongs) and her trainer, Josie Carroll, is shrewd. There is plenty of dirt pedigree on offer. Odds of over 15-1 would make her appealing and she’s one to consider including in USA exotic spreads. Bar Of Gold, who was second in the PID race, looks a longshot here.
Verdict: The main opinion here is to be against the favorite but it’s hard to choose where to land. One option would be to simply lay Unique Bella at 6-4 or shorter.