In what could be the start of an excellent season for the older dirt female division, Midnight Bisou was up in time, deep in the heart of Texas. It may not have been pretty, but under confident handling by her Hall of Fame pilot Mike Smith, the classy filly rolled late to win Sunday’s $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic. The victory came in the newly turned 4-year-old’s first start of 2019, and her first outing since finishing third to the champion Monomoy Girl in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
The win at Sam Houston Race Park was likely better than the final 3/4-length margin would suggest. Dead last early behind slow fractions and forced wide for much of the race, Midnight Bisou carried highweight of 123 pounds to, and past, the leaders with a well timed late burst of speed and class. The multiple Grade 1 winning daughter of Midnight Lute clearly demonstrated that she is poised for another strong season in 2019.
With the return victory, Midnight Bisou secured another notch in her growing career record of 12-6-3-3, while increasing her overall earnings to $1,745,000. Trained early on by Bill Spawr, while based in California, she was transferred to the barn of Steve Asmussen after a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and has not lost a step. A consistent and classy performer, she is just one of several high class American mares that could make this division one of the year’s most interesting.
Her trainer says that she will probably get in one more start in a yet to be determined race before tackling her first major early season goal, the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park on April 14. Which happens to be the same race discussed as a possible return race for the aforementioned Monomoy Girl. Last year, that one consistently got the better of Midnight Bisou, beating her rival every time other than a disqualification in the rich Cotillion Stakes. But as good as Midnight Bisou is, this is a rivalry that I want to see continue.
Monomoy Girl, as soon as she does return for trainer Brad Cox, will be the one to beat in the division. A promising filly at two, the daughter of Tapizar took things to a whole new exciting level in 2018. In winning races like the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she displayed great versatility and a strong desire to win. In fact, she got to the wire first in all seven of her starts, five of them coming against grade 1 competition. From February through November, she was quite simply the best young filly in the land, and in the Eclipse Award voting, she easily outdistanced her competition, including Midnight Bisou.
And then we can’t forget about Elate. High class from the beginning for trainer, Bill Mott, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro developed into one of America’s elite fillies with back-to-back overpowering scores in the Grade 1 Alabama and the Beldame back in 2017. Unfortunately much of last season was lost, but in her only two races, she looked the part of a potential champion. Remember, her Hall of Fame conditioner was even considering running her against the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, before a minor setback forced her out of action. Another who could show up in the Apple Blossom, if she comes back as well as five, as she did at four, she could give everything the newly turned 4-year-old fillies want, and more.
Another major player in the division should be Wow Cat. Bred and raced in Chile, the daughter of Lookin At Lucky was a woman racing against girls (and boys) in her native land. Shipped to the U.S. and into the barn of Chad Brown, she did not show her absolute best here in her first two starts, but by the time the Grade 1 Beldame rolled around, Wow Cat was prepared to demonstrate why she was such a star in South America. The romp in the prestigious race at Belmont Park proceeded an excellent rally up the rail to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Now accustomed to American racing, and in the hands of the nation’s leading trainer, look for her to be a handful this year.
Of course, there are many other strong older dirt females ready to do good things in 2019, such as the recent La Canada winner, Escape Clause, but with a big four that includes Monomoy Girl, Elate, Wow Cat, and Sunday’s Houston Ladies Classic winner, Midnight Bisou, there might not be enough big wins to go around in the older dirt female division.
Photo of Midnight Bisou courtesy of Coady Photography