The Filly and Mare Turf is always one of the most hotly-contested races at the Breeders' Cup, with Europe and the US having a to-and-fro war for supremacy, with the hosts currently in an 11-7 lead. Due to the configuration of the Del Mar track, the race will be run over nine furlongs this year, a potentially important adjustment.
Lady Eli is the darling of the American distaffers and with good reason, as she has had a remarkable career, overcoming serious injury and still performing at the very highest level. For all the sentiment, she is still a very good mare and might be the one to benefit the most from the nine-furlong distance, having been nailed on the line in the race last year. She scored in the Ballston Spa last time, a race won by Zagora en route to FM victory for the yard in the past. She will likely be well bet again having won all but one of her starts this season, but ultimately her form doesn't really warrant her position at the top of the market, particularly in what looks an ultra-competitive renewal.
The horse that denied Lady Eli a fairytale victory in last year's Filly and Mare Turf was Queen's Trust and she returns once more following a frustrating season. In truth, she hasn't had her ground for most of the year, but looked to retain all of her ability with a staying on fourth in the Prince of Wales's Stakes against the boys. She caught the eye to an extent last time when tenderly handled and there's a strong likelihood she will run to a similar level of form as last year. However, Queen's Trust seems better in a well-run race and needed all of the ten furlongs to score last year. The drop in trip looks unlikely to suit her as well as some of her rivals and she may struggle to reverse the form with Rhododendron.
Clearly more was expected from last year's star juvenile filly than a head victory in the Prix de l'Opera, but that doesn't really tell the full story. She looked unlucky not to give Winter a real race in the Guineas – and that filly has gone on to have a spectacular year – and she travelled all over Enable in the Oaks until stamina came into play. Things went slightly awry subsequently, but the win at Chantilly represented an emphatic and significant step back in the right direction. She was trapped wide there and saw plenty of daylight, but really impressed with her attitude and the manner with which she saw the race out. The l'Opera is generally not a great trial for the F and M Turf – it's quite close to the Breeders' Cup and often run under the opposite conditions to those that prevail there – but Rhododendron has form on quick ground and at sharp left-handed tracks, and comes here fresher than most. Furthermore, Hydrangea has franked the form with a victory on Champions’ Day.
Another trial worth examining is the Matron Stakes, though none of Roly Poly, Rhododendron, or Wuheida made the frame. Of the three Rhododenron might be the most interesting, based on the fact that she was able to finish strongly according to the clock despite a rough trip.
Down the field in the l'Opera, Senga should do much better under American conditions. Soft ground seems totally against her and she could well return to the form of her French Oaks victory now allowed so firm turf to run on. It must be noted that her trainer, Pascal Bary, has won three BC races and two with females (the Mile in 2003 with Six Perfections and the Turf back in the day with Miss Alleged). She’s one to consider at double-digit odds, and is a must use for USA exotic bets.
Wuheida ran a decent fourth in the l'Opera before missing an intended engagement at Keeneland due to a bruised foot. That would have told us more about her, but she has a high level of form at her best and is another who could improve for fast ground.
In Grand Jete and Dacita, Chad Brown has a couple of other smart performers to support Lady Eli. They both ran well in the Flower Bowl, one of the best North American trials, but had to give best to War Flag, a French import who has improved steadily. All three need more, but could be useful in exotics.
Verdict: Rhododendron looks the play at odds of 5-2 or higher. Senga is an appealing longshot at double-digit odds.