Considering you can count on one hand the number of 3-year-old filly races in this country offering a $1 million purse, it seems shocking that Saturday's Grade I Cotillion Stakes has only four entrants.
Given that two of the four are the current division leader and an undefeated champion, those who chose not to subject their charges to these monsters could be forgiven.
What it lacks in size, the 11⁄16-mile Cotillion makes up for in brilliance. Multiple Grade I winner Questing and reigning 2-year-old filly champion My Miss Aurelia are slated to knock heads for the first time during what stands to be a salty day of action at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa.
Along with the Cotillion, Parx will feature a rematch between co-Travers Stakes victors Alpha and Golden Ticket in the Grade II, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. Also, Grade I winner Currency Swap faces the talented Trinniberg in the $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes.
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Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and owned by Godolphin Racing — the same connections behind Alpha — the freakish Questing has taken the sophomore filly ranks by the throat, winning both the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade I Alabama Stakes by a combined 131/4 lengths in her last two starts.
After being sidelined with shin problems following her win in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, My Miss Aurelia overcame a poor start and won her first start in nine months for Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton when she took the Mandy's Gold Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 8.
Just as one of the two is expected to be in front at the wire, the duo are also likely to work one another over on the front end. What weighs heaviest on McLaughlin's mind, however, are the 7 more pounds his filly will have to carry over her rival.
"We've proved we can go fast and keep going but ... it's going to be interesting how it unfolds," McLaughlin said. "We have to respect (My Miss Aurelia) and we're giving her 7 pounds so it's going to be interesting the first half of the race. Hopefully we're in front and not going too fast."
After producing the first dead heat in the Grade I Travers since 1874, Alpha and Golden Ticket will have to shake off six other challengers in the 11⁄8-mile Pennsylvania Derby.
A multiple graded stakes winner, Alpha could stamp himself as the leading 3-year-old male contender for the Breeders' Cup Classic with a victory Saturday. A triumph by Golden Ticket — who had just a maiden win before the Travers — will help silence those who deemed his Mid-Summer Derby effort a fluke.
"He needed the last race," said Ken McPeek, trainer of Golden Ticket. "He drank over a bucket of water in the spit box (after) so that's a horse who had gotten tired. Hopefully he runs a little bit better than the last time just off fitness level and — I hope it wasn't a fluke. I hope they're wrong. We'll see."