Updated on 09/16/2011 9:26AM

BC Countdown - Distaff: Youth movement

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Spinster winner Take Charge Lady (above), Beldame winner Imperial Gesture, and Alabama winner Farda Amiga form a trio of rapidly developing 3-year-old fillies who might test older rivals Azeri and Summer Colony in the BC Distaff.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Maybe it's not a two-horse race after all. For weeks, the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 26 at Arlington Park appeared to be a showdown between older fillies Azeri and Summer Colony. But this year's crop of 3-year-old fillies has developed so rapidly in recent weeks that the Distaff now appears to have far more depth.

Last Saturday, the 3-year-old filly Imperial Gesture easily defeated older rivals Mandy's Gold and Summer Colony in the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park. The next afternoon, Take Charge Lady and You led a one-two sweep for 3-year-old fillies against older rivals Printemps and Dancethruthedawn in the Overbrook Spinster Stakes at Keeneland. Both got Beyer Speed Figures - Take Charge Lady 109; Imperial Gesture 105 - that put them on a par with the best of Azeri and Summer Colony.

Every fall, much is made of the transition the 3-year-old males - those who competed in the Triple Crown - need to make to face older horses. It's one of the rites of passage, one Came Home successfully completed in the Pacific Classic. Less interest, it seems, is focused on the 3-year-old fillies, but the hurdle they face in the fall is every bit as challenging. And this year, it's a hurdle they are clearing.

"I think the 3-year-old fillies are very good," said Tom Albertrani, who oversees the training of Imperial Gesture for Godolphin Racing. "Our filly proved she's a top contender."

In the 18 previous runnings of the Distaff, 3-year-old fillies have won six times, including the last two with Spain and Unbridled Elaine. The prospective field for this year's Distaff has a trio of 3-year-old fillies in Farda Amiga, the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes winner, along with Imperial Gesture and Take Charge Lady. If any of those three were to win the Distaff, they would lock up an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.

The Distaff field should be the smallest of the day for the World Thoroughbred Championships. As of now, only nine are considering the race. The performances last week of Azeri, Imperial Gesture, and Take Charge Lady forced a number of contenders - such as Atelier, Transcendental, and You - to drop out of the running.

Imperial Gesture has come on strongly this fall after a disastrous run in the Kentucky Oaks in May. "That race took a lot out of her," Albertrani said. "She got banged around. She had to really sprint to get into contention."

A stout, robust filly, Imperial Gesture lost weight after the Oaks. She then was hit by a touch of colic on the eve of a scheduled comeback race at Saratoga. When she finally got back to the races two weeks later, she beat older rivals in a classified allowance race. Imperial Gesture then scored a front-running victory in the Gazelle Handicap, and followed that up with her runaway win in the Beldame. She has won 5 of 6 starts this year.

"She's got a great cruising speed," Albertrani said. "The other day, they started to close in on her on the turn, and she suddenly opened up five lengths again."

Imperial Gesture's last three races, and wins, all have been around one turn. The Distaff is a two-turn, 1 1/8-mile race. "She's improved so much I don't think that will be any problem," Albertrani said.

Take Charge Lady ran second to Imperial Gesture in the Gazelle in her first start in 3 1/2 months, and used that as a prep for the Spinster. Her victory on Sunday was her fourth in as many starts at Keeneland, and her eighth in 12 starts overall.

"It was a powerful race. We expected it," said Ken McPeek, who trains Take Charge Lady. "She rated nicely, which is something we had been working on. We want her to have tactical speed, not just raw speed. For her to win the Distaff, going a mile and an eighth, she needs to have tactical speed."

The dynamics of a two-turn, 1 1/8-mile race are what give hope to trainer Mark Hennig that Summer Colony will perform better in the Distaff than she did in the Beldame.

"I told Mr. Evans," Hennig said, referring to owner Ned Evans, "that if we wanted to win our prep, we should go to the Spinster, but if we wanted to have our best chance in the Breeders' Cup, we should stay in New York. Win or lose, this was the best way for us to get to the Breeders' Cup. Imperial Gesture is a pretty darn good filly around one turn. It remains to be seen if she can do the same thing around two turns. I can't say I was surprised by what happened Saturday. I kind of predicted it."

In other Distaff developments:

- Trainer Mark Frostad said he "hasn't made up any plans yet" regarding whether Dancethruthedawn, who was fourth in the Spinster, will go on to the Breeders' Cup. "I was disappointed in her race," said Frostad, who said Dancethruthedawn would be retired at the end of this year.

- Starrer, who ran second to Azeri in last week's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, is also on the fence, trainer John Shirreffs said. "We're undecided," Shirreffs said. "I really liked her race. I thought she finished better than she had in her other races."