McLean Digs Into Breeders’ Cup: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies

(Serengeti Empress gallops at Churchill Downs in the a.m. / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

(Serengeti Empress wins at Churchill Downs / Photo Courtesy of Churchill Downs)

We will begin to take a look at the Breeders’ Cup races, with a snapshot at each of the “Championship Races” that will make up the 2-day racing extravagancy at Churchill Downs — beginning this coming Friday.

The third of the Stakes in the magnificent sequence will be the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies — the third BC race on a day dedicated to promoting “Tomorrow’s Stars.” All the Breeders’ Cup races on Friday will be for the 2YO divisions — both fillies and colts; both grass and dirt.

This event will be contested at 11/16 miles over the dirt, and post time is estimated to be 4:40 p.m. ET. A field of 10 is expected. Here’s our snap shot.

  1. Top Pick: Bellafina (10) —This daughter of Quality Road is just that — quality. In her first four career starts, she has three wins and a second. The loss came in her first start, though, and since then she has won the G2 Sorrento Stakes by 41/4 lengths; the G1 Del Mar Debutante by 41/4 lengths; and the G1 Chandelier Stakes by 61/2 lengths. One of those convincing wins came over Mother Mother, who rolled here this weekend in the Rags to Riches Stakes. And, she has been working lights out — including a to move at Santa Anita on Oct. 19. This one will want to go right to the front, and the post position certainly does not help in that regard. Especially in a race that is abundant with speed types. But after seeing this one on the track Tuesday morning, I am impressed with both her speed and strength. Has won at the distance, too. This is a great, talented, deep field — but they all with have this one to beat.
  2. Interesting Factoid — The dam of Bellafina is Akron Moon, a daughter of Malibu Moon. Akron Moon is the dam of two 2-year-olds so far, and both of them have won as juveniles. And, both of them have become Stakes winners. And, guess what? Both of them by Quality Road. Akron Moon was Stakes-placed in eight races. But I think the breeders have found a cross that works, don’t you?
  3. Run-away Winners — Two runners in this field of 10 have already won over the Churchill Downs main track by open lengths. Restless Rider (4) — winner of the G1 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland in her last start — won at Churchill Downs in late June, capturing the Debutante Stakes by 11 lengths. But, strangely enough, that was not the biggest win by a 2YO filly in a Stakes event at Churchill Downs this year. Serengeti Empress (2) — who has won three races this year by a combined 371/2 lengths — captured the G2 Pocahontas Stakes here on Sept. 15 by over 19 lengths. And, that was just her first shot at two turns. Both of these locals are doing well going into Friday’s event, too. Serengeti Empress worked a bullet here on Oct. 18 and looked super on the track Tuesday. Restless Rider has come out of the Alcibiades and has worked super over at Keeneland — going 5 furlongs in 1:01 on Oct. 19. Both of these fillies have a big chance on Friday.
  4. Live Long Shot: Vibrance (3) — This daughter of Violence comes into Friday’s race with only one win in three career starts, and in the last out she was handily beaten by Bellafina in the G1 Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita. But I can see room for improvement in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. The Chandelier was the first time she was stretched out to 11/16 miles, and this one made all the early lead and pace. She simply drew tired in the later stages, and the best filly on the West Coast motored right on by for the win. This one did hang on for second, though, and showed some guts getting to the wire in that one. The race before, though, Vibrance laid off the pace in the early going, and stalked the leaders when going a flat mile at Del Mar. Jockey pushed the right button midway through that one, and she blistered to the wire and won by nearly 6. If she improves off the last race at all, this one could be a tougher out than the last go around.
  5. How Do I Play It — I will play Bellafina (10) and Serengeti Empress (2) across the board and box those two solidly in one exacta. I will key the 10-2 over/under the 3 in two more.
  6. How Do You Play It —  We welcome your insights and handicapping tips. Let us know. Email me at After all, to win at the Breeders’ Cup? It takes a village.
  7. Next — Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf — 1 Mile On the Grass

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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