11/03/2016 11:56AM

Hovdey: All together, BC females are stronger than ever


The Breeders’ Cup always has been intended to take the breath away.

In the beginning, it was the money, more purse money than American racing ever had seen before. As it evolved, it was the competition, international in scope, dizzy with intensity. At one point, it became the action and how astounding it was to see just how much people wanted to bet, upward of $150 million over a two-day show.

Now, in a social environment so completely attuned to the cult of personality, the Breeders’ Cup is all about the stars. It’s not enough just to brag about going to the Breeders’ Cup. There have been 32 of them. The novelty has worn off. Now, the question is, “Who did you see?” And if the answer is, “I saw Zenyatta,” or “Wise Dan,” or “Goldikova,” or “American Pharoah,” then you’ve got their attention.

This year, the main attraction is California Chrome, a horse of such universal appeal that even the opposition saves room to root.

“You can’t help it,” said trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who will try to beat California Chrome with the longshots Effinex and Shaman Ghost in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. “He’s just such a neat horse, and a great story.”

No question, when California Chrome shows up, he tends to suck all the air out of the room. The 1 1/4 miles on dirt is right up his alley, and his six races this year – from the winter in Dubai to his final rehearsal at Santa Anita – have unfolded as if hewing to a script already chiseled in stone.

However, by the time California Chrome takes the track late Saturday afternoon against Travers winner Arrogate, Met Mile winner Frosted, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Hoppertunity, and Santa Anita Handicap winner Melatonin, the story of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup already may have been written by the half-dozen world-class fillies and mares who have made this party something to remember.

Never before has the Santa Anita Park backstretch been home to such depth of female talent. A stroll through the stables is like walking a wing of the Louvre, with masterpiece after masterpiece staring down from the walls.

Friday’s $2 million Distaff has been predicted to be the best race ever run in the U.S. on a weekday that wasn’t a holiday. No one really did the research, but it sounds about right for an event that attracted champions Songbird, Beholder, and Stellar Wind as well as the multiple Grade 1 winners Curalina, I’m a Chatterbox, and Forever Unbridled.

Songbird and Beholder each have one foot in the Hall of Fame, while Stellar Wind spent the last three months defying the conventional thinking that there could be yet another filly of similar caliber on the West Coast. Yes, the Distaff should be run on a Saturday on network TV alongside the Classic – especially this Distaff – but that’s an argument we’ll save for another day. Anyway, Zenyatta won the same event on a Friday, so at least this year’s winner will be in good company.

If the true test of a great filly or mare is her ability to defeat males at the highest levels, then the three on the marquee for Saturday have passed with flying colors.

Found is the durable daughter of Galileo who runs for Coolmore and trainer Aidan O’Brien. She upset Golden Horn in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland last year, the same Golden Horn who was acclaimed European Horse of the Year, and she is back to defend her title on Saturday, with a purse of $4 million on the line.

Found is also making her 10th start of the season and her third in the last five weeks, after winning the Arc de Triomphe on the first Sunday in October and finishing second to likely European Horse of the Year Almanzor in the Champion Stakes on Oct. 15. By finishing first, second, or third in the Turf, Found will pass Zenyatta’s $7.3 million as the all-time leading earner among females with at least one start in North America. It is assumed, however, that they didn’t send her to California to finish second or third.

If Found gets points for her international adventurism, save some credit for Miss Temple City and the Graham Motion crew. They have on their hands a long, full-figured filly who has stood the gaff of trips abroad in each of the last two years for dates at Royal Ascot.

She was a competitive fourth in both tries – no shame in that – while back home in the States, Miss Temple City manhandled males in both the Maker’s 46 Mile and the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. Among her victims in the Shadwell were Ironicus, Tourist, What a View, and stablemate Ring Weekend, all of them trying her again on Saturday in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Fillies and mares do not win the Mile all the time, it just seems like it. Royal Heroine was first out of the box in 1984, followed by Miesque (1987-88), Ridgewood Pearl (1995), Six Perfections (2003), and the era of Goldikova (2008-10).

Then came Tepin, whose performance in the 2015 Mile at Keeneland capped a championship season that began in relative obscurity, with an allowance-race win at Gulfstream Park coming after a seven-month layoff.

That was then. Now Tepin reigns as a bona fide American hero, the winner of the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last June and the Woodbine Mile in her return to competition in September. Earlier this week, trainer Mark Casse stood admiring the mare in the corner stall of her temporary Santa Anita barn as she dropped in her straw, scratched an itch, and then jumped up to playfully charge her webbing.

“Guess she shipped okay,” he deadpanned. This was Tepin. All she ever does is ship okay.

“You know, this is really a deep Breeders’ Cup across the board, but especially with the mares,” Casse said. “And a lot of that is because people have kept these good ones in training. Beholder is 6, Tepin is 5. They could have been bred by now.”

Casse broke his personal Breeders’ Cup drought by winning two of the 13 races last year with Tepin and Catch a Glimpse, who runs on Saturday in the Filly and Mare Turf.

“We’ve got seven running in Breeders’ Cup races, and I think four of them have a legitimate shot,” Casse said. “Someone asked me if I’d be happy if I could only win one. It didn’t take me long to answer. Of course, I would. Who wouldn’t?”