Yahilwa: A Live Longshot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff?

Yahilwa: A Live Longshot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff?

Keeneland Photo

Coming into the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) on October 4th at Keeneland–held over the same track and distance as the $2,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) on October 30th–Yahilwa was considered a major longshot and was sent off at nearly 21-1. Although she had won the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) in April at Hawthorne, her other recent efforts–a fourth in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) and a very distant runner-up effort in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I)–didn’t inspire confidence in her chances of winning the Spinster.

But to the surprise of many, Yahilwa turned in arguably the best race of her career in the Spinster, battling with Kentucky Oaks winners Untapable and Lovely Maria through fractions :46 4/5 and 1:11 flat before finishing third, beaten just a neck by late-running Got Lucky and a head by Untapable.

At first glance, her effort was solid but not overly remarkable, but when you consider she had a bit of a tough trip–dueling throughout and racing along the rail in the homestretch, where the track might have been slower–you can make a case that she would have won with a slightly different trip.

But more importantly, Yahilwa has been thriving in her training since the Spinster, culminating with an impressive five-furlong workout on October 15th at Keeneland. With exercise rider Aime Williams in the saddle, Yahilwa turned in brilliant fractions of :11.60, :22.80, :34.60, and :46.60 before stopping the clock in :58.40 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.20.

According to the Keeneland Barn Notes for October 15th, Williams was very impressed with Yahilwa’s workout. “That was awesome,” Williams said. “She was relaxed and galloped out strong.”

“After the Spinster, when we took her back to the track the first couple days we jogged her thinking the race may have taken something out of her,” Williams said. “But she is way stronger now than she was before the race. She really likes it here.”

With 2013 Distaff winner Beholder skipping this year’s renewal in favor of a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), the Distaff looks very wide-open this year, with a large field of evenly-matched fillies and mares expected to run. Because Yahilwa has only won a single graded stakes from a dozen attempts, she’s bound to be overlooked in the wagering, and could quite possibly go off at 20-1 or more. But it’s hard to ignore the way she’s thriving at Keeneland, and with a good trip in the Distaff, I think she has a legitimate chance to win.

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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