Updated on 09/17/2011 10:19PM

BC Distaff: With her inconsistent form, Ashado's chances for repeat are unclear


In the 21 years that the Breeders' Cup Distaff has been run, only one horse has been able to capture the race twice. That is the challenge Ashado will face this year, as she tries to join Bayakoa as a repeat winner of the Distaff.

Bayakoa won her second Distaff in 1990 at Belmont Park, and that is where Ashado will make her attempt on Oct. 29. Ashado was the dominant 3-year-old filly in the country last year, when her victories included the Kentucky Oaks and the Distaff.

This year, though, Ashado's form has been inscrutable. She began slowly, had a strong early summer, but disappointed in her last start, the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.

"She came out of the race with a foot bruise," Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Ashado, said Wednesday morning from the Keeneland yearling sales in Kentucky. "She was uncomfortable for a few days."

Pletcher said he would ideally like to run Ashado in the Grade 1, $750,000 Beldame Stakes at 1 1/8 miles - the same distance as the $2 million Distaff - at Belmont Park on Oct. 1. If Ashado cannot make that race, Pletcher said he would train Ashado straight into the Distaff.

The Beldame is shaping up as a rematch of the Personal Ensign - upset winner Shadow Cast is headed there, too - with the added intrigue of Alabama Stakes winner Sweet Symphony joining the cast.

If Sweet Symphony goes in the Beldame, she will be facing older runners in a stakes race for the first time.

"She's doing super," said Sweet Symphony's trainer, Bill Mott. "I'm very happy with her. You never know if a horse is going to develop as quickly as she has. Everything we've thrown at her, she's handled it. A lot of them chicken out at this point. She didn't."

A tempting alternative to the Beldame for a 3-year-old filly such as Sweet Symphony is the Grade 2, $300,000 Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park, which also is Oct. 1 but is restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Mott said the Beldame is preferred because "it's at home."

Pletcher, though, found the Cotillion a viable option last year, using it as a prep for Ashado before the Distaff. Pletcher will head there again this year with the rapidly improving Indian Vale, who crushed a second-level allowance group at Saratoga on Sept. 4 to remain unbeaten.

"We felt all along she was a filly who wanted two turns and added distance, so we were a little surprised she got up going six furlongs first time out at Monmouth," Pletcher said. "Her two races at a mile and an eighth have been pretty dominant. My only concern with the Cotillion is that it would be backing her up to a mile and a sixteenth, and I think she prefers a mile and an eighth, or longer."

Another Pletcher runner, Isola Piu Bella, is headed to the Grade 1, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 9.

Stellar Jayne, who won last week's Ruffian Handicap at Belmont, will go straight to the Distaff, while runner-up Society Selection will make another start, in the Beldame.

3-year-olds & up, fillies & mares, 1 1/8 miles. Purse: $2 million.

1Society SelectionH. A. Jerkens6-1
Good second in Ruffian following throat surgery; ready for big effort
2AshadoT. Pletcher2-1
Loves Belmont, but that stinker in Personal Ensign is cause for pause
3Sweet SymphonyW. Mott5-1
Galloped in Alabama to stay undefeated; improving 3yo is dangerous
4Stellar JayneS. bin Suroor4-1
Won Ruffian off layoff; was a tough-trip third to Ashado in this last year
5Shadow CastN. Howard8-1
Always seemed a cut below the best until her Personal Ensign win
6Dream of SummerJ. Garcia12-1
Been better going long this year than expected; fresh coming into fall
7Island SandJ. L. Jones15-1
Could contend on her best race, but consistency has been a problem
8TarlowJ. Shirreffs12-1
Better than ever early in year, then vanished; that's never a good sign
9Two Trail SiouxW. Dollase20-1
Had difficulty carrying her speed against this kind in her last two starts
10Hollywood StoryJ. Shirreffs30-1
All three of this closer's career stakes wins came at Hollywood Park

The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.