05/05/2011 10:04AM

Churchill Downs: Hilda's Passion appears hard to catch in Humana Distaff


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It has been quite an eventful year for Hilda’s Passion since the fleet filly won a first-level allowance at Arlington Park on Kentucky Derby Day 2010. Purchased privately after that race, Hilda’s Passion has made such tremendous strides that she will be the heavy favorite Saturday in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff, part of a terrific 2011 Derby undercard at Churchill Downs.

Hilda’s Passion, owned by Starlight Partners and Clint Glasscock, is entered off a pair of spectacular Gulfstream Park stakes wins and surely will be the one to catch after eight fillies and mares leave the gate for their seven-furlong journey in the $300,000 Humana Distaff.

“She really developed into a very nice mare over the winter in Florida,” said Jack Wolf, a principal in Starlight Partners.

Javier Castellano has the mount back for trainer Todd Pletcher aboard the 4-year-old Hilda’s Passion, who will break from post 7.

Hilda’s Passion has run six times since being sold, winning four stakes, three of them graded. Her last race was her best, as she earned a whopping 109 Beyer Speed Figure in easily winning the Grade 2 Inside Information on March 19.

“I think we’ve given her plenty of time since that race,” said Wolf.

In terms of race strategy for Saturday, it looks pretty straightforward: Make the front and don’t look back.

“Todd told me he really likes the way the filly’s coming into the race,” said Wolf, whose group had the thrill of winning the 2004 Kentucky Oaks with Ashado. “On paper, she does look head and shoulders above the rest, but as everyone knows, they’ve still got to run the race. We won’t take anything for granted. I do feel like if we get beat, it’s going to be a really good horse to do it, because this is a fast filly.”

Three horses wheeling back from the Grade 1 Vinery Madison at Keeneland look like the main threats to Hilda’s Passion. Shotgun Gulch, dismissed at 11-1 with Garrett Gomez riding, rallied from last to capture that April 14 Polytrack race by a head over Amen Hallelujah, with the highly accomplished Evening Jewel another three lengths back in fourth.

Shotgun Gulch is quite a story, having made it to racing’s biggest stage in somewhat unconventional fashion: the 4-year-old filly was bred in Oklahoma by C.R. Trout, who remains her owner and trainer. The Madison victory was the first in a Grade 1 for an ecstatic Trout, who has hired Gomez back for Saturday.

Amen Hallelujah was a bit player in a controversy leading into the Madison that involved her trainer, Rick Dutrow, who won the Derby three years ago with Big Brown. Dutrow was denied a 2011 trainer’s license in Kentucky in a convoluted snafu that led the filly’s owners to name Justin Sallusto as the program trainer. Amen Hallelujah, unaffected, nearly went out and won, getting nailed only in the final strides by Shotgun Gulch.

Michael Nevin is the new trainer of Amen Hallelujah, who retains John Velazquez in the saddle.

Evening Jewel, based in Southern California with Jim Cassidy, is always a danger, having knocked out more than $1.2 million from 18 career starts. Victor Espinoza has the mount as usual.

Completing the field are Sassy Image, Stage Magic, Twelve Twenty Two, and Tidal Pool.

The Humana Distaff, first run in 1987 as the Brown & Williamson, goes as the seventh of 13 races, with post time set for 2:08 p.m. Eastern. The 2010 running was won by Mona de Momma, with Joel Rosario riding for John Sadler.