Injury-prone Awesome Feather puts perfect record on line in Ladies' Classic

awincze@herald-leader.comOctober 30, 2012 

  • Breeders' Cup World Championships

    When: Friday and Saturday

    Where: Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

ARCADIA, Calif. — Few things stir minds and get the racing community lathered up like the pursuit of perfection.

Though he never raced in this country, Juddmonte's recently retired Frankel became a global phenomenon with his unblemished 14-for-14 mark. Personal Ensign's flawless record in 13 career starts remains a gold standard for distaffers and though Zenyatta suffered her first loss in her career finale, the 19 straight wins she carved out prior inspired a fan base that remains among the sport's most rabid.

Yet, here sits champion Awesome Feather, she of 10 wins in as many starts, not even deemed with favoritism for Friday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

The fact the 4-year-old filly's journey has been injury prone undoubtedly alters the light in which her streak is viewed. But in the times she is able to compete, Awesome Feather has never looked like anything but a talent that has yet to encounter a serious challenger.

Since taking the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and being crowned that year's divisional champion, Awesome Feather has raced just four times and been sidelined for a combined 19 months, including a six-month period where all trainer Chad Brown could do was walk her.

Her initial 11-month hiatus was brought on by a bowed tendon discovered shortly after Frank Stronach's Adena Springs operation purchased her for $2.3 million at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton November Sale days after her Breeders' Cup win. Then after winning the Sunshine Millions Distaff last January, Awesome Feather sat for eight months because of an undisclosed ailment until winning the Nasty Storm Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 20.

Instead of dwelling on the frustration of what she could have done, her connections focus on the fact the bay daughter of Awesome of Course has won her last four starts by a combined 241/4 lengths including a 51/4-length triumph in the Grade I Gazelle last November.

"Their approach to it is unbelievable as owners, they never whined about it, never said what if this, what if that," said Brown, who took over training Awesome Feather from Stanley Gold after she was purchased by Stronach. "I really believe they are being rewarded for what great sportsmen they were about it.

"She's a remarkable horse, she's really good right now. In a perfect world we certainly would like to have run her more than we have, but she's been a work in progress since the day I've had her so I really don't know her any other way."

One other thing Brown doesn't know is where the ceiling might be on Awesome Feather's ability.

She has already tackled the 11⁄8-mile distance of the Ladies' Classic twice, including in the Gazelle where she defeated fellow Ladies' Classic entrant and Grade I winner Love and Pride.

Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez has been in the saddle for all of Awesome Feather's starts as the two have been able to sit second or third off the leader and then come with a kick that has yet to fizzle.

"She has a lot of natural speed and she can carry it as far as you want," Brown said. "She has a tremendous determination to win, to pass a horse. If she sees anyone in front of her she just can't wait to go right by them. Luckily so far she's gone by them all."

If Awesome Feather is still unbeaten come Saturday morning, her already well-regarded name will be mentioned with renewed reverence.

So deep is this year's Ladies' Classic that Awesome Feather isn't even the only unbeaten 2-year-old champion in the bunch. My Miss Aurelia, winner of the 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, stretched her career win streak to six with a triumph over Questing in the Grade I Cotillion Stakes at Parx on Sept. 22 but will be trying 11⁄8 miles for the first time in the Ladies' Classic.

Champion and defending race winner Royal Delta is coming into the Ladies' Classic off a 91/2-length drubbing of rival It's Tricky in the Grade I Beldame Invitational on Sept. 29 and was made the 9-5 morning-line favorite Monday. Love and Pride beat Royal Delta in the Grade I Personal Ensign and followed that with a win in the Grade I Zenyatta (formerly the Lady's Secret) at Santa Anita.

"It's tough. It's arguably the greatest Ladies' Classic field ever assembled in my mind," Brown said. "I mean. I'm just fortunate enough to be a part of it. There are a handful of horses in this field where if they bring their 'A' game they can win the race. I'm one of them but there are several."

With her physical history, no one knows how many opportunities Awesome Feather has left in her. What they do know is she has yet to let one go unseized.

"Every time we've brought her back from a break there have been no guarantees that we would even get another race out of her," Brown said. "It's always been just do the best you can and do what the filly tells you. She is good with telling us what is going on."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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