Monday, October 1, 2012

On a 'Quest' for Value in BC Ladies' Classic

--Brian DiDonato 

   With her 9 1/2-length romp in Belmont’s GI Beldame S. Saturday, defending GI Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta (Empire Maker) stamped herself as a deserving favorite for this year’s renewal. The good Royal Delta showed up, and when that happens, very few dirt routers--either male or female--can run with her. She proved her second-place effort to GI Zenyatta S. victoress Love and Pride (A.P. Indy) in the GI Personal Ensign H. was just the product of an off day, but it does make one wonder if last year’s champion 3-year-old filly can be trusted to show up with her best at Santa Anita. She has run clunkers before, and while she used the Beldame as a stepping stone to a career high last year, her effort Saturday was much stronger than in 2011 and may well have put her over the top for the big one. She’s currently 2-1 at both William Hill and the Wynn, and I’d say that’s on the low side of fair--there’s better value to be had.

Low-striding Royal Delta cruises in Beldame
NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photo

   First, a few play againsts. I wouldn’t touch anyone from the Zenyatta on the win end. Love and Pride got away with murder on a speed-favoring track, but only earned a 92 Beyer Speed Figure vs. Royal Delta’s 106. She’s currently 6-1 at the Wynn and 10-1 on William Hill, but her fair odds to win the Ladies’ Classic are probably upwards of 30-1 considering expected pace dynamics. Runner-up Joyful Victory (Tapit) (who’s reportedly skipping the Breeders’ Cup) has already been exposed as a cut or two below the better females out there; and while local hope Include Me Out (Include) probably has the best chance to have a say Nov. 2, it’s hard to imagine her beating all of the East Coast invaders. Amani (Chi) (Morning Raider {Ire}) has been a huge disappointment since being imported from her native country with impressive-looking form and I can’t see any reason to expect anything different if she runs.  
   I’m also against Awesome Feather (Awesome of Course) (5-1 at the Wynn, 7-1 on William Hill), who seems likely to be a fashionable pick--I’m guessing she’ll be a clear second choice by post time if she makes the race. While trainer Chad Brown has done an exceptional job keeping the undefeated filly together and on an upward trajectory, she has faced absolutely nothing in all nine of her wins and it’s hard to have any confidence in a horse who requires so much time between starts. 
Questing runs away with the Alabama
NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photo

   That leaves us with the top two 3-year-old fillies, My Miss Aurelia (Smart Strike) and Questing (Hard Spun), who put on quite the show in Parx’s GI Cotillion S. While the former got the win that day and is a slightly shorter price at most future books (9-2 vs. 6-1 on William Hill, 7-1 vs. 8-1 at the Wynn--almost worth flying to Vegas to get down on Questing), anybody who paid attention to the races that day knows Questing ran much better. Questing set a very slow pace, but it was over a track with the most pronounced dead rail and anti-speed bias you’ll ever see. My Miss Aurelia still has some seasoning questions to answer with just two starts under her belt, while it’s impossible to denigrate Questing’s form since switching to the dirt. Her GI Alabama S. tour de force was probably close to on par with any other dirt race we’ve seen this year--she set impossible fractions and just kept going. Questing’s capable of running other quick horses off their feet, and as long as she breaks cleanly over that speed-favoring Santa Anita dirt, she’s going to be very tough to catch regardless of which Royal Delta shows up. Note that Godolphin/McLaughlin also have It’s Tricky (Mineshaft) as a possible Ladies’ Classic entrant, but I’m guessing they’ll turn her back for the GI Filly & Mare Sprint. She’ll prove extremely tough as a non-favorite in that event.

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