Zipse: Monomoy Girl begins to rank among 21st century greats

Champion Monomoy Girl returned on Saturday to rave reviews while dominating a Churchill Downs allowance race. It was her first start in better than a year and a half, since winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at the same racetrack.

That victory back in November of 2018 closed out a terrific season which culminated with an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old Filly. If her racing had ended then, it would have been an excellent and memorable career. We now know that the daughter of Tapizar is far from done. 

A more mature version of Monomoy Girl emerged from the Brad Cox barn over the weekend and rejected any concerns of rust. She rated kindly and advanced powerfully, flashing everything you’d want to see in a topnotch runner. After a lengthy layoff, it appears she is primed for a big season. 

On top of what she has already accomplished, Monomoy Girl has once again begun building on her sterling resume. The chestnut mare has now won 10 of 12 lifetime starts. Besides her popular win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she also scored an important victory in the Kentucky Oaks, as well as the Acorn, Ashland and Coaching Club American Oaks at the Grade 1 level.

Her record is only more impressive when you consider one of her losses came by controversial disqualification. Only one horse has ever hit the wire ahead of her, and that came by a neck as a 2-year-old. 

She’s also finished ahead of her top rival, Midnight Bisou, in each of their four meetings. Clearly, it’s a career full of consistency and excellence, and one that deserves comparison to the greatest female runners of recent years. 

The first two decades of this century have seen its fair share of sensational female runners. Fillies and mares have flourished worldwide, and here in the United States, it’s been no different. There have been five 21st century fillies and mares, who ran on the main track and around two turns, to have already entered the Hall of Fame, with more to come. 

Let’s start with Zenyatta. Queen Z reached legendary status while winning her first 19 starts which stretched just over three seasons. Only a narrow and defeat at the hands of Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic prevented her retirement as perfect in 20 career starts. The gallant loss also stopped her from winning a third straight year at the Breeders’ Cup. A champion three years in a row, and a one-time Horse of the Year, she remains the only female ever to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Zenyatta was inducted into the Hall of Fame as soon as she became eligible. 

Rachel Alexandra was a contemporary of Zenyatta. Despite tailing off a bit as an older mare, she still never finished worse than second in her final 18 starts. Of course, the overall record is only part of her story. That's because her sophomore season may have been the greatest ever of any 3-year-old filly. Undefeated in eight starts in 2009, she not only won big races like the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose by unprecedented margins, but also beat the boys three times in the Haskell, Woodward and the Preakness. She became the first filly to win the Triple Crown's middle jewel in 85 years and, like Zenyatta, entered the Hall of Fame at first asking in 2016. 

Azeri is the third-most accomplished American female to enter the Hall of Fame this century. The California-based mare won 17 of 24 lifetime starts, including 11 in a row. Like Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, she earned a coveted Horse of the Year title which generally is territory for the males. All told, she won 14 graded stakes from 2002 to 2004, including an easy victory in the '02 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and was named Champion Older Female in each of the three seasons. 

Similar in race record to Azeri is the more recent mare Beholder. Also based in California, she was a model of consistency in a stellar career which stretched over five seasons. Overall, she won 18 of 26 career starts and was a winner at the Breeders’ Cup three times -- two coming in the Distaff and one in the Juvenile Fillies. She notably beat the boys by daylight in the Pacific Classic. Perhaps most impressively, she won an Eclipse Award in four seasons. She will likely enter the Hall of Fame as soon as her first year of eligibility. 

Not quite as spectacular as the four listed above are Royal Delta and Ashado. Both are in the Hall of Fame after hearty, Breeders’ Cup-winning careers. In fact, Royal Delta won the Distaff in back-to-back seasons, joining Bayakoa as the only horse ever to win the race in consecutive fashion. Royal Delta retired with a career record of 12-for-22, which was good enough to secure an Eclipse Award in three consecutive seasons. 

Meanwhile, Ashado also won 12 career races and needed one fewer start than Royal Delta to do it. Excellent in each of her three years on the track, the daughter of Saint Ballado was a multiple graded stakes winner in each season she raced. A two-time Eclipse Award winner, she became the first filly to win both the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff, an impressive duo that Monomoy Girl was also able to complete.

Blind Luck, Havre de Grace, and Rags to Riches were all among this year’s finalists for the Hall of Fame but did not get in. Each could still make it. Blind Luck had 10 graded stakes wins over three seasons. Havre de Grace, who was Blind Luck’s feared rival, beat the boys in the Woodward on her way to a Horse of the Year award. Rags to Riches had an amazing five-race wins streak that culminated with a historic victory over Curlin in the Belmont Stakes. 

Each, though, have blemishes that may keep them out of the Hall. Blind Luck never won at the Breeders' Cup, Havre de Grace was beaten by her rival in four of six tries, and Rags to Riches only won five races before her early retirement.

Perhaps the filly with which Monomoy Girl has the most in common with in recent years is Songbird. Like Beholder, you can expect the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro to move right into the Hall of Fame as soon as she becomes eligible in 2022. Also like Monomoy Girl, she only suffered two career defeats, and she finished second in both. In fact, of the two losses, once came by an eyelash to the older Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and the other came to the champion Forever Unbridled when already likely feeling the effects of an injury. A two-time champion and Breeders’ Cup winner, she was consistently dominant, with nine of her 13 wins coming in Grade 1 races. 

Going back just a little bit farther, Yanks Music is another filly who can be closely compared to Monomoy Girl. The 1996 Champion 3-year-old filly won the Mother Goose, Alabama, Ruffian, and Beldame, defeating the older champion Serena’s Song in her last two. An injury scratched her out of a date with Cigar in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and ultimately forced her retirement. Like Monomoy Girl, Yanks Music had only two career defeats, and she ran second in both, but with only nine career races, she has not made it into the Hall of Fame. 

Considering that she has already three more career wins than Yanks Music, and with the Breeders’ Cup and Kentucky Oaks wins on her resume, Monomoy Girl has likely already surpassed that of the ‘96 champion. 

So, where does Monomoy Girl fit in with the 21st century greats? 

Her accomplishments are probably a shade below the best of the century to this point. Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Azeri, Beholder and Songbird were all more than special in their dominance. Eclipse Awards for them were foregone conclusions, as was, or will be, their respective inductions in the Hall of Fame. 

The next group, however, which includes Ashado, Royal Delta, Blind Luck, Havre de Grace, and Rags to Riches is a collection which Monomoy Girl already belongs. She only needs a few more big wins this year to equal or even surpass this distinguished group of great American race mares. 

It’s rarified air, but as good as Monomoy Girl was in her return race, she may be racing herself right into the Hall of Fame.

Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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