DEL MAR, Calif. – The first to yield was the one most expected to cross the wire in front, her stride shortening around the far turn as the toll of the pace she chased sapped her fight and left her in the usual position of having to retreat.
The mare who had been her only conqueror tried to go on but soon joined her rival in battling fatigue while the youngster many thought had the goods to take the older girls down began putting in her bid to add a regal title to go along with her royal bloodlines.
The one coming best of all down the stretch of the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), though, was the one who no one saw coming. She was making her first start in this country with form that was mystery to her ten rivals.
She made sure if that if they didn’t know who she was beforehand, none would forget the name Marche Lorraine (JPN) anytime soon.
With all eyes on the multiple Grade 1 winners Letruska, Shedaresthedevil, and Malathaat in the 1 1/8-miles Distaff, it was the Japanese-bred Marche Lorraine who stole focus from everyone in her first start in North America. The 5-year-old daughter of Orfevre (JPN) capitalized on a massive pace meltdown in front of her, rallying from well back and then surging up the middle of the track to best Grade 1 winner Dunbar Road by a whisker at the wire and turn the marquee race for fillies and mares on its ear.
The honor of carrying the biggest target into the race went to the Fausto Gutierrez-trained Letruska, the daughter of Super Saver who had won her last five outings, four of them Grade 1 contests. The only rival who had been able to get ahead of Letruska and beat her this season had been 2020 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Shedaresthedevil, who herself arrived at Saturday’s test off consecutive wins including a triumph over the Del Mar oval in the Clement L. Hirsch (G1) in August.
If the two big girls were going to be upended, Shadwell’s homebred darling Malathaat seemed ripe to be the one to execute said feat. The daughter of Curlin out of Grade 1 winner Dreaming of Julia captured this year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) and had but one blemish on her resume from seven career starts.
Instead of a coronation to cap off what many expect to be an Eclipse Award-winning season for Letruska, what transpired was a scenario few outside of Marche Lorraine’s connections had on their Bingo card. With Private Mission able to outfoot everyone to get to the early lead, she led a wild scramble up front that included 8-5 favorite Letruska through blistering fractions of :21.84 and :44.97 as Marche Lorraine and Dunbar Road raced near the rear of the field.
As the field approached the far turn, Letruska’s determined legs waved the white flag as she and Private Mission began their respective retreat towards the back. Shedaresthedevil, who had sat close up in fourth, then third, made a brief move but was quickly overtaken as Marche Lorraine surged to the front in the middle of the track with Royal Flag and Clairiere to her outside and Dunbar Road and Malathaat surging to her inside.
“I tried to ignore her odds and just give her every chance in the run and hopefully she could finish off,” said jockey Oisin Murphy, who was aboard 49-1 shot Marche Lorraine. “And to be honest, we were obviously a hostage to fortune, I sat out the back, and they went quite quick. So we needed them to do that, but it was a brilliant performance.
“Jose Ortiz (aboard Dunbar Road) is someone I look up to and he knows the dirt a lot better than I do and he wasn’t going and I thought, well, best probably to follow him, and I just took my time behind him.”
As Marche Lorraine put away her two outside rivals, Dunbar Road was coming to her inside with equal determination with Malathaat, with whom she made contact with in the lane, also making a run closest to the rail. Marche Lorraine surged again in the shadow of the wire to repel the bid by Dunbar Road, the two hitting the line simultaneously in a finish that had members of both teams thinking they might have prevailed.
“I had no idea (if I won) and I just said on the way back in, with the shadows, it’s impossible to know exactly where the line is,” Murphy said. “It’s obviously different for the guys that are riding here all the time.”
Final time for the distance was 1:47.67 over a track rated fast.
For Dunbar Road, this year marked the second straight time she finished in the top three in the Distaff. The daughter of Quality Road was third in last year’s Distaff and while she hadn’t won since taking the 2020 Delaware Handicap (G2), she kept knocking on the door at the highest level including a runner-up effort in the Oct. 10 Juddmonte Spinster (G1). With the Distaff representing the final career start for the Peter Brant-owned mare, trainer Chad Brown was equal parts proud and gutted to see the end result.
“It’s a tough beat. I thought we got the headbob there,” Brown said. “It’s probably the toughest loss I’ve ever had. It’s just a shame because it’s two years in a row where she really should have won the Distaff. She got a bad trip last time too. No one can convince me otherwise.
“She had some trouble down the backside and she ended up on the inside (today) where I really didn’t want her. The track is better outside. It just happened that way. Jose (Ortiz) did the best he could and she gave a valiant effort. I’m really proud of her. It’s a shame her career ended this way. I thought she was a deserving winner of this race.”
Owned by U Carrot Farm, Marche Lorraine gave trainer Yoshito Yahagi his second winner of the day as he also conditions Love Only You (JPN), who prevailed in the Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Bred by Northern Farm, Marche Lorraine was making her first start since taking the Breeders Gold Cup at Mombetsu on Aug. 12 and was stepping into Grade/Group 1 company for the first time in 21 career starts.
“Traveling with two fillies from Japan wasn’t the ideal plan, and so Marche Lorraine was a good partner for Loves Only You,” Yahagi said. “And Marche Lorraine had three victories over turf in Japan and (I) was thinking that for horses to be competitive in the dirt in the U.S., they need to have some sort of speed, which means like winning turf races in Japan.”
Malathaat was third, just a half-length behind Dunbar Road, and the Distaff represented just her second loss in eight career starts.
“We got a great pace setup. She was getting a smooth trip,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of Malathaat. “At the top of the stretch, she kind of got squeezed in between horses and had to fight her way through and looked like she was just a little intimidated and kind of cocked her head a little bit. Once she got clear she was closing back again and gaining ground. It was a huge effort. I’m very proud of her. I just hate to ever see her lose. She’s a superstar and she lost nothing in defeat.”
Letruska faded badly to finish tenth in the 11-horse field but will likely be voted champion dirt female on the strength of her exceptional body of work in 2021 that features triumphs in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), Ogden Phipps (G1), Personal Ensign (G1), and Spinster.
“I think maybe she found the pace too fast,” Gutierrez said. “When it’s :21 and :44, it’s very difficult. When it’s :21 and :44, it’s impossible to run with these fractions.”
The victory was worth $1,040,000 and improved Marche Lorraine’s earnings to $2,845,677 with a record of 21-9-2-2.
“An amazing day, I couldn’t be happier,” Murphy said. “I sat on her during the week in morning exercise and she felt good. I’m very grateful to the owners for putting me up. I love riding in Japan so to have a Japanese winner at the Breeders Cup, it couldn’t be better.”