Updated on 09/15/2011 2:03PM

Countdown to the Cup: Filly & Mare Turf (9/20)


For first time since its inception in 1999, the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf will be decided at the distance it was originally intended, one and one quarter miles, next month at Belmont Park.

The configurations of the turf courses at Gulfstream Park and Churchill Downs, home to the 1999 and 2000 Breeders' Cup races, required the first two runnings of the Filly and Mare Turf to be lengthened to one mile and three furlongs. Otherwise, at a mile and a quarter, the races would have had to start on the turn. At Belmont, the mile-and-a-quarter distance is regularly run on the inner grass course.

No matter the distance, the Filly and Mare Turf again figures to offer a full and evenly matched field. For the third straight year, the division is without a standout either in the U.S. or Europe. And as was the case in 1999 and 2000, when the winners, Soaring Softly and Perfect Sting, went on to capture Eclipse Awards, another such championship is likely to be on the line.

Despite her dismal performance over soggy ground in the Beverly D. when finishing last of nine as the 3-5 favorite, Astra is still considered by many people to be the division leader. Before the Beverly D., Astra had won eight of 10 starts including both the Santa Barbara (G2) and Beverly Hills (G1) handicaps at the one-and-one-quarter-mile distance of the Filly and Mare Turf.

The Beverly D. also marked the final time Astra would run for trainer Simon Bray, who had done a brilliant and patient job managing her career. Several days after the race, she was turned over to Laura de Seroux, who has continued to train the mare in Southern California.

While Astra did not handle the soft turf at Arlington Park for the Beverly D., England's Legend thrived on it, leading throughout en route to a 7 3/4-length victory. The win was the third straight for the lightly raced 4-year-old who has improved with every start since being turned over to trainer Chrisophe Clement by her owner, Edouard Rothschild, last winter. And like Soaring Softly in 1999, she'll use Belmont Park's Flower Bowl Handicap as her final prep.

Starine's easy win in Saratoga's Diana Handicap (G2) on Labor Day quickly established her among the leading contenders for the Filly and Mare Turf. The win was the second straight for a filly who had an undistinguished career in her native France before coming to owner-trainer Bobby Frankel this spring.

Starine must be supplemented to the World Thoroughbred Championships at a cost of $90,000, and Frankel has said he will do so. He is planning to skip the Flower Bowl and train Starine into the race.

Janet, who upset Traquility Lake to win the Grade 1 Ramona Handicap before coming east, where she was soundly beaten by Starine in the Diana, is also not eligible for the Breeders' Cup. Trainer Darrell Vienna has already said it is very unlikely she'll be supplemented to the Filly and Mare Turf.