Unlike their male counterparts, the 3YO fillies have done a better job of not only being interesting, but maintaining the pecking order since the beginning of the year on both surfaces.
In a 2019 that’s seen the Triple Crown series all but implode, Team Justify get dragged by national news outlets over an alleged drug test failure, tragedy at Santa Anita and all subsequent fights over it on social media, and several shake-ups with injuries and illness plaguing their rankings, the colts have just been…boring. It’s no fault of their own. That’s just how their season turned out this year. With all the scrutiny the sport is now under (justifiable scrutiny in my opinion), I’m quite content with them being boring if it means the horses are being put first. That goes for any division.
That being said, the fillies (including their elders) have remained consistent in 2019 and the promise of seeing most of them at the Breeders’ Cup is enticing. Like most others, I’ve got an idea and a few strong opinions as to who I believe is the best 3YO filly in the country. It might surprise a few but I’m also looking at this in the long run as who I believe will win the Eclipse award at the end of the year. It was also a lot easier to make this list than it was for the colts, so I’m avoiding the elephant in the room for now.
I’m not talking out of both sides of my mouth when I say that I’ve liked this horse since the day she won the Pocahontas at Churchill last year. It’s hard to beat the Kentucky Oaks winner for the Eclipse Award (especially when they keep racing and doing as well as she has so far) and I do not believe it’ll be any different this time around. Now, her division is almost unreal in terms of depth. Do I believe there are fillies that might be better than her in the long run? Potentially. When it comes to year end honors however, if she runs her races for the rest of the year and performs well at the Breeders’ Cup, I see no one with a good enough resume to beat her for the title this year. Flavor of the month =/= the best horse on the year. Yes, that is shade but also my strongest feelings on the matter. She should be rewarded for having the best year and contrary to some thoughts on the matter, the year began in January and not in July.
I don’t contend that this filly is unnaturally talented. You have to be to go from a maiden race to a Grade I of the quality that the Acorn had this year and come out a winner. She’d beaten my top choice in that fantastic race at Belmont Park and cemented her status as maybe one of the best of her generation. Guarana and Serengeti Empress are both entered in the Gr. I Cotillion Stakes at Parx along with just about every other filly on my list. In order for to be fairly in contention for an Eclipse Award, she’d need to absolutely freak on them this weekend and in the Distaff in November. If not, I don’t foresee her winning the trophy in January. I just don’t. Her resume is just too light for me and it might end up being that way for the voters as well. At this point, she needs to have a miracle campaign to be crowned as best of her class in 2019 and considering the older mare division, I don’t see her beating Midnight Bisou or Elate in the Distaff. It’s going to be a very different horse race in November than anything she’s seen so far.
My infatuation with her name aside (I giggle every time I say it) and with her beautiful face, this filly is a fast horse. She obliterated the track record in the Gr. III Miss Preakness Stakes; running six furlongs in 1:07.70 and more closely resembling a rocket ship in the stretch. It was small wonder that a match up between her and Serengeti Empress was billed as a race of the year and it did not disappoint. When the two hooked up at the start of the Gr. I Test at Saratoga (shown below), they went at each other the entire way around and left Bellafina almost nine lengths behind at the finish line. It was an amazing effort from both fillies and the Ortiz brothers (Joel rode the winner while Jose rode Serengeti) to only finish half a length apart after almost breaking a 22.00 opening quarter and then running an equally fast second quarter. If they race Covfefe as a 4YO, she’s going to be hard to beat as a bigger, stronger horse.
Honorable Mention: Jaywalk
Frankly, she’s not the same horse who won the Gr. I Frizette Stakes and Gr. I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year. I’d go as far as to say she’s largely been forgotten in 2019 with the emergence of the three above.
She tasted sound defeat in the Gr. II Davona Dale when she finished fourth in her first race back since the Breeders’ Cup. It was a race she arguably had in her back pocket if she’d progressed forward and then third in the Ashland in her final prep before the Oaks.
On the first Friday in May, she crossed the wire in sixth but was subsequently disqualified to last after she came over on Positive Spirit at the start and caused her to clip heels, going down not long after the break. Thankfully, the filly immediately got up and was fine back at the barn.
She got a two month breather from the races and finally returned to the winner’s circle in the Gr. III Delaware Oaks after having things her own way against a field that wasn’t exactly Oaks quality. A win is a win, though. In her next start, the Gr. III Monmouth Oaks, she finished second after dueling for the lead the entire way around. She’s now entered in the Cotillion as well but I don’t see her beating Guarana and Serengeti Empress, though I will be interested to see who holds up better in a speed duel. It’ll be interesting, but I think we all know the answer to that question. If not for her brilliance last year, she wouldn’t be on this list at all, but I felt she deserved some kind of mention if for nothing more than sentimentality.
Barring someone coming out of the wings ala Zenyatta in late November, I think these fillies will be the older racehorse division to look forward to next year as well. Hopefully the colts without stud deals already set in stone will progress into next year as older horses and we’ll get a chance to see their talent in a year devoid of the chaos we saw in 2019.