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Breeders’ Cup Distaff: Great Performances and Performers

Zenyatta BC Ladies' 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Over the years, the Breeders' Cup Distaff has had its share of great performers and great performances. There were record setting victories and unbeaten champions. As we prepare for this year’s Distaff, let’s go back and take a look at some of those greats.
Princess Rooney 1984
The final start in the career of this great performer was in the inaugural Distaff at Hollywood Park. Princess Rooney made that last start one of her greatest performances when she won the Distaff as Breeders’ Cup announcer Tom Durkin described her as, “An absolutely runaway winner.”
This Breeders’ Cup victory secured her only Eclipse Award, as the top Older Female, even though she had a career record of 17 wins in 21 starts.  As a juvenile, Princess Rooney won all six of her starts without any serious challenge, but the Eclipse went to Landaluce who was also unbeaten.
Lady’s Secret 1986
Lady's Secret had a long career that spanned 4 years of racing and 45 career starts. 1986, which was her best year, ended with a win in the Distaff when the race was still contested at a mile and a quarter. In 1986 she travelled all over the country and took on the boys several times.
In gate to wire fashion she won the Distaff at Santa Anita and Durkin called it as follows, “Lady’s Secret puts it in another gear. Here is a brilliant champion.” He was correct as she not only took down the Eclipse for Older Females, but she was also Named Horse of the Year.
Personal Ensign 1988
Personal Ensign entered the 1988 Distaff unbeaten in 12 starts. That year, as a four year-old, she won all of her races fairly easily including the Whitney against her male counterparts. Her Distaff was run on a muddy track at Churchill Downs, and the 8½-length deficit was the farthest behind she had gotten in any career start. Turning for home Personal Ensign looked beaten. I still get chills when I watch the replay, as the Phipps runner somehow found a way to win by a nose after a “final 110 courageous yards.”  Personal Ensign got her only Eclipse Award as Top Older Female after her win in the Distaff.
Inside Information 1995
For Inside Information the Distaff of 1995 was a great performance. Tom Durkin used these phrases, “Turning it into a runaway…response was devasting…a colossal victory.” Inside Information set a record for the largest winning margin in any Breeders’ Cup race of 13½ lengths and the fastest time in the Distaff of 1:46.15. Both of those marks still stand almost 20 years later.
Her victory in the Distaff ended her career with an Eclipse Award and a final record of 14-1-2 in 17 starts.
Azeri 2002
In 2002 Azeri joined Lady’s Secret as the only two horses to be named Horse of the Year in the same year of their Distaff victory. 2002 would also be the first of three consecutive Eclipse Awards for Older Female. Azeri made it look easy when she led gate to wire at Arlington Park to win the Distaff by five lengths. At that point in her career Azeri had only lost once in 11 starts.
Zenyatta 2008
Zenyatta would run only once in the Distaff and that was the ninth start and ninth victory of her career. In 2008 Zenyatta won the first of three consecutive Eclipse Awards for Top Older Female. In 2009 Zenyatta became the only female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Her career ended in 2010, with Horse of the Year honors and 19 wins in 20 starts.
Royal Delta 2011, 2012
Royal Delta has already qualified as a great performer with her two consecutive victories and she heads into this year’s Distaff with a chance to win an unprecedented third in a row. Royal Delta won an Eclipse Award in each of her years as the Distaff winner, in 2011 for three year-old fillies and in 2012 for Older Females.


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Older Comments about Breeders’ Cup Distaff: Great Performances and Performers...

Watching Zenyatta just eat up the ground... it gives me chills everytime!
Really tough break for Bold N Determined to come along the same year as Genuine Risk. Any other year and her accomplishments would have earned her the divisional title. What a filly!
Great discussion everyone!
As good as Genuine Risk was..........and she was very good..........The 1980 Maskette, was won by Bold n Determined, with Risk second and I believe Misty Galore/Love Sign and Davona Dale were also rans that Day, Bold N Determined is the Best Filly ever to not win an Eclipse award, look her up. your mouth will drop..........
If not for the overatted controversial tactics of my all time fave ,and track bad boy Angel Cordero. She might of een closer. But she was behind the 8 ball with Codex.H e missed the Derby and was the Fresh horse. Thank you for reminding me though. I am and always will be somone on the more conservative side when dealing with young horses. For a 3yo filly ,to run in 4 high profile/pressure races in a 2 month period.This screams volumes of talent,class and overall Stamina.thanks again for the history remind.Loved every bit of it.
The distaff almost always has great fields, if Princess of Sylmar runs this year could be one of the best. One winner I always liked and don't think she gets enough respect is Dance Smartly. Triple Crown winner in Canada, winning at both 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles on turf, tough to see too many fillies today able to pull that off.
You're welcome. Always thought Genuine Risk was underrated a bit. Ran against the boys all spring and more than held her own. Finished third in the Wood Memorial right before her Derby victory. Tough little filly.
Thank you Shuvee
Genuine Risk won the Derby in 1980 and then finished second in both the Preakness and Belmont. Best record by a filly in the Triple Crown series, I believe.
At least she did get the Eclipse for Champion 3-Year Old Filly that year.
Florida, you are so very right about W.C. . She not only beat the boys,she won the Kentucky Derby(beating Risen Star) ,she also won the major prep against the boys.The Santa Anita Derby. Almost as impressive was the fact ,she might be the only filly ever to run in all 3 Triple Crown races for colts. Then to have the strength and ability to lose to one of the All time greats .The undefeated Personal Ensign. You nailed it with this one,come to think of it.She never got her real due when discussing all time greats in her division. As a little nudge to the Lukas bashers,she was also trained by D.Wayne.
You almost have to feel a bit sorry for Winning Colors. Not only did she lose the Distaff by a nose, but she likely lost HOTY by that amount, too. Not to take anything away from Alysheba, but Winning Color's 3-year old campaign was something else. Though I guess winning two races against the boys in events restricted to their age group isn't nearly as impressive as what Alysheba did, but you still have to wonder if the vote would have gone differently had Winning Colors won the Distaff that year.
Richard you can throw in legends such as Bayakoa and Inside Information. The whos who list this race has given us would be to long to list.That is only mentioning the winners,let alone the stars that paricipated and did not win.
As I researched this article I found it very interesting who won Eclipse Awards and when. I realized that it was not as easy to win one back in the 80's because many horses ran a lot more often and a horse really had to have a body of work to win an award!
inside information was devasting. However Azeri was awersome, truth be told the distaff has always been asensational race . Does anybody remembers HOLLYWOOD WILDCAT and PASEANA
Those are all some great horses...I still find it a travesty that Personal Ensign got only 1 Eclipse award...she was awesome. Her Distaff win has to go down as one of the most thrilling races ever. Zenyatta ran the second fastest Distaff, and Mike Smith was also on the horse that set the record, Inside Information.
Brian, I know Princess Rooney was the first Princess in your life!
The first edition remains the most impressive in my eyes ... Princess Rooney was unbeatable that day.

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Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.


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