Valiance Earns Breeders’ Cup Distaff Slot With First Graded Win In Spinster

Prior to Sunday’s Grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland, the only two times Valiance had competed on dirt in seven career starts for trainer Todd Pletcher were when races were taken off the turf because of wet conditions. She was 1-for-2 in those contests, most recently winning the Eatontown Stakes at Monmouth Park over a sloppy track.

Campaigning for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Martin Schwartz and CHC Inc., Valiance had no trouble handling the dirt at Keeneland in the fall meet’s biggest race for fillies and mares, the Spinster.  In addition to its G1 status and $400,000 purse, the Spinster had the added benefit of being a Win and You’re In Challenge Series race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, to be run at the Lexington, Ky., track on Nov. 7 as part of the two-day world championships.

Coming from off the pace while kept in the clear by Luis Saez, Valiance battled past the 3-year-old Shedaresthedevil, winner of the G1 Kentucky Oaks, in a stretch duel, then held off a furious late charge from Ollie’s Candy to win by three-quarters of a length.

For Pletcher, Keeneland’s all-time leading trainer in stakes wins with 57, it was his fourth Spinster victory. Previous wins came from Panty Raid (2007), In Lingerie (2012) and Got Lucky (2015).

For Saez, it was his fifth victory in 10 graded stakes during Fall Stars Weekend, including Grade 1 scores in the Alcibiades on Friday with Simply Ravishing and in Saturday’s Breeders’ Futurity on Essential Quality. He won four races Sunday, including the final three.

Valiance, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Tapit out of G1 Madison Stakes winner Last Full Measure, by Empire Maker, stopped the timer in 1:49.76 for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track and paid $14.80 for the win. She was bred by China Horse Club International Ltd.

Unlucky Ollie’s Candy, with four consecutive narrow defeats in G1 races for trainer John Sadler, finished second, with 6-5 favorite Shedaresthedevil third. Completing the order of finish were Lady Kate, Saracosa and Our Super Freak.

Shedaresthedevil outhustled  Lady Kate for the lead under Florent Geroux and set fractions of :23.62, :46.97 and 1:10.85 for six furlongs. Lady Kate was lapped to her outside much of the way, with Ollie’s Candy tucked behind the leader along the rail and Valiance three paths off the rail and in the clear.

With Lady Kate still in pursuit of the leader on the turn for home, Valiance ranged up three-wide and took on the Oaks winner. Joel Rosario, aboard Ollie’s Candy, had to bide his time behind the top pair before swinging off the rail when Lady Kate began to fade.

Valiance gradually edged past Shedaresthedevil and opened a clear lead in the final furlong, but Ollie’s Candy began to eat up ground though came up short in the end.

“It seemed like she had simply been training better on dirt than she ever did previously,” Pletcher said of Valiance after his fourth victory in the Spinster. “When she won her first three starts on the turf, it was logical to keep her on there. But when she didn’t fire her A race in the New York (G2) and kind of had a confidence builder (in an allowance race at Colonial Downs), when the Eatontown came off the turf at Monmouth and she ran…it was very impressive the way she did that that day. The margin doesn’t do justice to how easily she won that day. That’s when we started thinking about taking a shot in a big one.

“That was kind of the one thing missing on her resume was that graded stakes win. With a filly of her quality and pedigree, something like that was so valuable to her and we felt like in light of how well she was doing, it was worth taking a shot.”

“That would be the hope (to run back in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff). We’ll see how she comes out of it. Probably bring her and (Bourbon-G2 winner) Mutasaabeq back to New York this week and prepare from Belmont. If she trains accordingly, that will be the goal.”

The win was the sixth for Valiance in eight starts. She was purchased for $650,000 by Eclipse and Schwartz from the Bluewater Sales consignment at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale.

“Just blown away,” said Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Aron Wellman. “It’s been such an emotional year dealing with the craziest times that the world has seen. We’re just so honored to win a race like this with such a regally bred filly.

“We’ve just been waiting and waiting and waiting to swing for the fences with her,” Wellman added.  “We started her off last year as a turf filly. She trained well on the dirt all along, but the way things played out schedule-wise, option-wise, we kept her on the turf. She won a stakes last year on the turf as a 3-year-old, and we gave her a lot of time to come into her 4-year-old season. We never really ruled out the possibility that she was a good dirt horse.

“When she won the Eatontown off the turf in the slop, you know slop isn’t normal dirt. But it gave us the confidence to take this monumental leap because she was a stakes winner on turf and then she was a stakes winner on dirt. We had nothing to lose by trying to go for the Grade 1. We were going for it even though we knew (Midnight Bisou) was pointing for the Spinster and our hearts go out to the connections of that champion mare since she obviously couldn’t make the race. We felt that much more confident once she was out of the race that we would be live to make some noise.

“We thought she was in with a win opportunity but even hitting the top three would have been huge for her resume and residual value. By Tapit, out of a Grade 1 mare…this thrust her into a whole other stratosphere value-wise.

“It’s an incredible division (the distaff division) this year. They lost Midnight Bisou but you still have Monomoy Girl, who is a Hall of Fame filly in her own right, and the 3-year-old division is incredible.

“Right now, we’re just over the moon to have captured this Grade 1, a race with such prestige. It’s just so enormous to win this race. We’re so honored.”

Shedaresthedevil’s trainer, Brad Cox, said the Distaff is “a big, big question mark” for the Daredevil filly who tired in the stretch after setting fast fractions.

“I am disappointed; she went too fast, too early,” Cox said. “She never got a breather. It was a lot to ask, bringing her back in four weeks (after winning the Kentucky Oaks). And she is a 3-year-old against older fillies and mares for the first time.”


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