11/23/2010 5:11PM

History Precedes Special Duty in Matriarch

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Special Duty will step into the gate for the Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park on Friday as a two-time classic winner this year, but one that hasn't crossed the line first in a race in nearly 14 months.
The champion juvenile filly in France last year, she has garnered her rather bizarre record by having lucked into both the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, or French 1000 Guineas, at Longchamp in the space of just 15 days in May. At Newmarket it was Jacqueline Quest who headed her after having banged her around through the last furlong. At Longchamp, Liliside was the culprit as she squeezed Special Duty out at the quarter pole only to have her rush late at the end, missing by just a nose.
Rare is the European dual classic winner on American shores these days. And while Special Duty's accomplishment must be accompanied by a very large asterisk, she was the best horse on the day in both Guineas. On the face of it she looks difficult to beat on Friday, but there are sound reasons you would be justified in looking elsewhere for the winner.
One is that Special Duty is winless since the French Guineas. Given a break after Longchamp, she tanked it next time in Newmarket's Falmouth Stakes, like the Guineas a Group 1 mile, weakening to finish a distant seventh on good to firm ground she was supposed to like. Last time she displated a bit of her old mettle, closing mildly to finish sixth behind an excellent field headed by Goldikova, Paco Boy and Dick Turpin.
At the start of the year, trainer Criquette Head-Maarek had had doubts about Special Duty's ability to stay a mile, and she wasn't alone in that surmise. By Hennessy out of a Distant View mare, a mile looked about as far as she could get on a good day. When she was beaten into third in her 1000 Guineas prep in the 7-furlong, Group 3 Prix Imprudence, the doubters raised their voices a notch. She had tried to take them all the way but was caught at the eighth-pole. Admittedly, in Joanna she was losing to the subsequent Group 2 Prix de Sandringham winner who would finish just a half-length behind Special Duty in third in the French 1000. And in Imprudence runner-up Evading Tempete she was nipped for second by the subsequent winner of the Group 3 Premio Regina Elena, or Italian 1000 Guineas. Moreover, the soft ground that day at Maisons-Laffitte was not in her favor.
However, the two that crossed the line in Special Duty's Guineas have, like Special Duty herself, both failed to live up to their reputations. Jacqueline Quest has since finished 3 1/2 lengths third to Lillie Langtry in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes and 2 lengths fifth in the Group 3 Oak Tree Stakes. Liliside has won a one-mile listed race at Longchamp but was only fifth in Joanna's Sandringham and eighth against males in the Group 1 Premio Vittorio di Capua in Milan.
On the other hand, Special Duty should take to the firm Hollywood turf course, and even more to the fast pace that course should produce. Among her Matriarch rivals will be confirmed fornt runners Camille C and Wasted Tears, as well as Westwood Pride, who should be close up in the early going. Special Duty is also dropping down in class. Wasted Tears is only a Grade 2 winner, while Go Forth North is a Grade 3 winner, as is Gypsy's Warning, who also has a pair of Group 1 triumphs to her credit in her native South Africa.
Camille C, Wasted Tears and Westwood Pride will give Special Duty something to run at but there must be doubts about her attitude towards winning these days. Dropping back from a front-running third in the 1 1/4-mile Yellow Ribbon on Oct. 2, Gypsy's Warning looks like a big danger as she will surely take up a tracking position over the shorter distance of the Matriarch. It may be a close thing in the end, but Gypsy's Warning, with her greater experience of American racing, is taken to beat the French invader.

If there is a race on the American calendar that deserves to be named after the late Bobby Frankel, it is the Matriarch. Frankel won it eight times- breaking Charlie Whittingham's record of seven victories- and deserves at least a half credit for the victory of Ventura last year as he had trained the filly through all of her American career until his death on Nov. 16 of last year.
It is Frankel's achievements that have made the Matriarch look like a race made for foreign plunder. Since 1996, it has been won by ex-foreign-trained horses nine times. Seven of Frankel's eight winners- plus Ventura- had all formerly been trained in foreign climes. But only one of the last 14 winners during that time span was actually trained in a foreign country like Special Duty. That was Dress To Thrill, who landed the 2002 renewal under the tutelage of Dermot Weld.
On that basis, Team Valor's ex-South African Gypsy's Warning fits the Matriarch profile of recent winners better than does Special Duty.

Here is a quick recap of Frankel's Matriarch winners..

1996 WANDESTA Like all but two of Frankel's Matriarch winners owned by Juddmonte Farms, this Nashwan filly was only a listed winner going 12 furlongs for Roger Charlton in England before arriving in America. She was third in her first Matriarch try going 1 1/8 miles in 1994, was third again going 1 1/4 miles a year later, but was third time lucky in her racing finale in 1996.

1997 RYAFAN The winner of the one-mile, Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac at two, this Lear Fan filly would win the one-mile Falmouth Stakes and the 1 1/4-mile Nassau Stakes at three. Both of those races were Group 2's at the time, but her victories helped to eventually have them upgraded to Group 1 status. In America, she was perfect, winning the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup and the Yellow Ribbon for John Gosden before landing the Matriarch for Frankel. Like Wandesta a year earlier, she was named the Eclipse Award winner as best filly or mare on turf. Ryafan is the dam of Phantom Wind, the winner of Goodwood's 7-furlong, Group 3 Oak Tree Stakes.

1999 HAPPYANUNOIT Frankel and owners Amerman Racing Stable went to New Zealand for this Yachtie filly who had won the 7-furlong, Group 1 Manawatu Sires Produce Stakes in her native land before failing to pin back the colt Dracula by a nose in the one-mile, Group 1 Champagne Stakes at Randwick in Australia. After winning the Matriarch as a 4-year-old- the first time it was run at a mile-she would take the Beverly Hills at five and the Gamely at six.

2001 STARINE Highly consistent in France where she was first or second in her first ten starts for Jean-Marie Capitte, this French-bred Mendocino filly didn't quite make the grade when stepped up to Group 3 company, but that didn't deter Frankel, who bought her privately for himself in April 2001. Her victory in the Matriarch that year followed a win in Saratoga's Grade 2 Diana and preceded her Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf triumph at Arlington Park.

2003 HEAT HAZE Merely a listed race winner in France for Andre Fabre, this daughter of Green Desert and the great broodmare Hasili blossomed under Frankel's care, winning Grade 3's at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs before taking the Beverly D and the Matriarch as a 4-year-old for Juddmonte.

2004 INTERCONTINENTAL This Danehill daughter of Hasili began her career in France for Fabre and Juddmonte, winning the listed 7-furlong Prix Amandine at Deauville in August 2003. That winter she was sent to Frankel, for whom she won the Matriarch as a 4-year-old and the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at five.

2007 PRECIOUS KITTEN The only one of Frankel's Matriarch winners to race exclusively in America, this was a daughter of Catienus owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stable. Her Matriarch tally came after her win in the John C. Mabee Handicap and before her score in the Gamely a year later as a 4-year-old.

2008 PRICE TAG Unlike Special Duty, who was awarded her classic victory in the French 1000 Guineas, Price Tag actually passed the post first in the 2008 edition of the French fillies classic for Juddmonte and Pascal Bary, only to be disqualified and placed third behind the very lucky Tie Black and the impeded Impressionnante. By Dansili, himself a son of Hasili, Price Tag won the Matriarch in her first start for Frankel.

2009 VENTURA Originally trained in England by Amanda Perrett, this Juddmonte daugther of Arlington Million winner Chester House was only a Kempton Polytrack listed winner in eight starts before being transferred to Frankel, for whom she won at first asking in the Grade 2 Madison Stakes on the Keeneland Polytrack. Two months later she took the Grade 1 Just A Game Stakes at Belmont. At five she won a pair of Grade 1's, the 7-furlong Santa Monica Handicap on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride, and the Woodbine Mile on turf. Her last start for Frankel was a heartbreaking second to Informed Decision in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Twelve days after his death she bid him farewell with a victory in the Matriarch, for which she was saddled by Frankel's longtime assistant Humberto Ascanio.