ARCADIA Trainers Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher expect a showdown worthy of a queen in today's Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Mott's Royal Delta has won the $2 million stakes the past two years and is aiming for a rare three-peat, but Pletcher's Princess of Sylmar beat Royal Delta in their final tuneup at New York's Belmont Park.
Today's rematch will be 3,000 miles away on Santa Anita's fast dirt track, where another filly Beholder may have an edge.
The focus is on Royal Delta, who will try to match Goldikova's Breeders' Cup record of three consecutive victories (all in the Mile).
"She looked great on the track (Thursday) morning and it seems like she is doing well," Mott said. "It would be a pretty feather in everybody's cap to join Goldikova as one of the two horses to win the same Breeders' Cup race three times."
But anything can happen in horse racing. That's why Mott and Pletcher both entered backups.
"In this field, if you're not Royal Delta, Princess of Sylmar or Beholder, you could get overlooked," Pletcher said. "There's a couple of exceptional fillies in there like (Mott's) Close Hatches and (Pletcher's) Authenticity that if they're able to run big races, it wouldn't be shocking."
Said Mott: "Is (Royal Delta) the one to beat? Absolutely. I'm not saying she can't be beat, but she is the one to beat. From our eyes, we could look at the others who are ones to beat, like Beholder. You could look at two or three of them in there. Then you've got Close Hatches flying under the radar. Nobody cares about her."
Except, perhaps Mott, who has won this race five times.
Beholder has won five of six starts at Santa Anita, including last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The 3-year-old filly lost to Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks in May but was a runaway winner in her two starts since. Jockey Gary Stevens rides her today.
"Gary will find a good spot for her and then go on from there, " trainer Richard Mandella said. "If she makes the lead, that's good. If she's away a bit slow and doesn't (set the pace), that's good, too. She can handle it and so can he."
Pletcher figures front-running Beholder, Royal Delta and Close Hatches could knock each other out if their jockeys let them go too fast.
"To me, it's very much a jockey's race. There's probably going to be some cat-and-mouse going on. I think there are five of the six that wouldn't be a surprise (to win), based on their résumés," Pletcher said of the Distaff's six-horse field. "Then, there's always that long-shot sixth one (Street Girl)."
The Breeders' Cup gives fillies and mares plenty of opportunities to shine, with five of the 14 stakes restricted to females. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer expects a huge performance from Sweet Lulu in Saturday's $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint.
Owned by Sacramento's Steve Beneto, the 3-year-old filly has won four of five starts; her only loss was to Close Hatches in Philadelphia's Cotillion Stakes.
"She's doing really well," said Hollendorfer, who has trained three Kentucky Oaks winners. "Among 3-year-old fillies I've trained, she's right up there at the top."
Another Northern California trainer, Jeff Bonde, also brought a budding female star to this year's Breeders' Cup. She's A Tiger, a half-sister to Bonde's ace sprinter Smiling Tiger, is among the favorites in Saturday's Juvenile Fillies.
"She missed a little training time before her last race (a narrow loss to Secret Compass in the Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita)," Bonde said. "Now, she's back firing on all cylinders. Hopefully, she'll step up and show what she is. These are all great horses. You've just got to come with your best race."
What: Thoroughbred horse racing's annual event will crown 14 champions.
When: Today, 1:45 p.m.; Saturday, 12:05 p.m. ($5 mil- lion Classic, 5:30 p.m.)
Where: Santa Anita
TV: Today, 1 p.m., NBCSN; Saturday, 12:30 p.m., NBCSN, and 5 p.m., Ch. 3
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.