Updated on 09/16/2011 8:39AM

Distaff draws big names

Victory Ride, shown winning the $100,000 Madison at Keeneland in April, will go after her sixth win in nine lifetime starts in Saturday's Churchill Downs Distaff - but the opposition runs deep.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The theory that the sport of horse racing tapers off badly after the Breeders' Cup could take a major hit Saturday when a deep and competitive field of fillies and mares clashes in the 17th running of the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Distaff.

Although the $200,000 Churchill Distaff did not attract any horses who ran two weeks ago in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park, the one-mile race scarcely could have come up a better betting race than it did. Victory Ride, winner of the Grade 1 Test Stakes in 2001, is one of many legitimate contenders in a field that also drew such stakes-proven runners as Habibti, Trip, Adoration, and Bare Necessities.

Victory Ride typifies the quality of the Distaff. Bred by the late John Mabee and owned by G. Watts Humphrey, she has won 5 of 8 lifetime starts, with only her latest race, the Oct. 6 Spinster at Keeneland, being a subpar effort.

"That was just a bad day all around for her," said Jack Bohannan, the longtime Kentucky-based assistant to Victory Ride's trainer, Rusty Arnold. "She was very rank in the early part and never really did settle down."

But Saturday could be a major reversal in form, warned Bohannan.

"We've given her two slow half-mile works since then, trying to calm her down, and it looks like they've worked. She's coming into this race really well. She really ought to like the one-run mile better than the mile and an eighth" of the Spinster.

Victory Ride could allow Arnold to increase the record that he already holds for wins in the Churchill Distaff. Arnold, who is expected to be here Saturday, won three of the previous 16 runnings, with Darien Miss (1988), Dream Scheme (1998), and Let (1999).

Like Victory Ride, Habibti also is entered off perhaps the worst race of her career, but her connections also expect a turnaround.

"She is training extremely well," said John Good, local assistant to trainer Bob Baffert. "Bob even admitted he might not have had her fully cranked up for her last race," a fifth-place finish at Del Mar in September. "But since she's gotten here at Churchill, she has really come around. She is training awesome."

Habibti, a 3-year-old Tabasco Cat filly, clearly has the credentials to post her first win of the year Saturday. At 2, she won two Grade 1 races from four overall starts, and although she has been blanked in four tries this year, those struggles have come against the likes of You, Farda Amiga, and Take Charge Lady.

Trip is the grizzled veteran of the field, having earned nearly $900,000 from 27 starts. A 5-year-old Lord at War mare now trained by Shug McGaughey, Trip is entered off two sharp triumphs: an allowance at Saratoga in August, followed by the Turfway Breeders' Cup in September.

The unknown quantities in the group are a pair of California-based 3-year-olds, Adoration and Bare Necessities, both of whom arrived here Tuesday.

Adoration, trained by David Hofmans, won the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks in June but has run two subpar races since then. Bare Necessities, trained by Wally Dollase, is making her second trip to the Midwest in five weeks, having scored an eight-length triumph in the Oct. 4 Indiana BC Oaks for her first career stakes win.

The rest of the field is Flaxen Flyer, Red N'Gold, Softly, and Lotta Rhythm.

Habibti, who will carry 119 pounds, is the highweight in the Distaff, which is run under handicap conditions.

A notable absentee is defending champion Nasty Storm, who was sold to Stronach Stables earlier this week at Keeneland for $1,075,000.

The Distaff dates to 1986, when Lazer Show won the then-seven-furlong race. Winners have included standouts Wilderness Song (1992), Educated Risk (1994), and Chilukki (2000).

The Distaff is the highlight of a 10-race card that also includes three allowances (races four, seven, and eight). In the seventh, Tito's Beau, a respectable fourth behind Sky Mesa in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last month, could take some beating in a field of nine entry-level 2-year-olds.

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