ARCADIA, Calif. — The Breeders' Cup World Championships have long been a playground for international distaffers to show how their superiority extends beyond their own gender.
From Miesque to Goldikova to Pebbles, the list of turf females who have laid it down against the boys in 29 previous editions of the Breeders' Cup represent some of the best raw talent to cross the ocean.
Some 22 years have passed, though, since a female put her male counterparts in their place in the 11/2-mile Breeders' Cup Turf. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Fugue is favored to end that drought Saturday at Santa Anita, a feat that would allow her to take a spot in the same breath as some of the greats.
Many thought when The Fugue entered the 2012 Filly & Mare Turf as the favorite that trainer John Gosden would go home with the purple-and-yellow garland that is draped over Breeders' Cup winners. Bottled up inside for much of that 11/4-mile race, The Fugue was full of run with nowhere to go, finishing third to Zagora in what was roundly termed an "unlucky" outing.
Fresh off back-to-back Group I victories this year, including a 11/4-length win over males in the Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 7, the 4-year-old's goal now is redemption at a higher level. While soft ground kept Gosden from trying The Fugue in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and British Champion Stakes, the dark bay filly's class merited an ambitious go in the $3 million Turf against the likes of Grade I winners Point of Entry, Real Solution, Big Blue Kitten and defending race winner Little Mike.
"I think we've slightly taken the bold step, I'll admit that," said Gosden, who has won four Breeders' Cup races including the inaugural 1984 Mile with the filly Royal Heroine. "Point of Entry is a superb horse, Little Mike is coming back to his form ... but she's a filly in good form, and we thought to be bold and go for the big one.
"She was unlucky here last year so we know she can handle the track. Just a matter of getting enough daylight. I think in terms of taking on the colts we're not frightened about doing that if we have a really good filly."
The Fugue takes a cue from her trainer in that her presence makes a powerful impression. Having won the Group I Nassau Stakes during her 3-year-old season, she made her 2013 debut against males in the Group I Prince of Wales's Stakes during the Royal Ascot meeting, running an admirable third to Al Kazeem.
Heads were scratched when she ran last of seven in the Group I Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July, but Gosden later found her to have an illness that lingered for about 10 days. A return to full health led to spoils as she rolled to a 4-length win in the Group I, 11/2-mile Yorkshire Oaks on Aug. 22 before taking down her prior conqueror Al Kazeem in the Irish Champion Stakes.
"She's come here fresh. She's been on the go and working, but she hasn't had a hard race in testing conditions (since September)," Gosden said. "She didn't start racing until Royal Ascot and she took a long time to come to us. But that did help extend her season onwards."
The Fugue is not the only horse that could use the Turf to mend some unfinished business from a year ago.
Point of Entry carried a five-race win streak that featured three Grade I wins into the Turf a year ago. Like The Fugue in her outing, Point of Entry also got pinned on the rail and lacked room, finishing a half-length behind Little Mike.
Phipps Stable's 5-year-old homebred seemed destined to again bear the target as the one to beat when he won the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and Grade I Manhattan in his first two starts this season. He emerged from that win with a condylar fracture of his left hind cannon bone and will be making his first start since that injury in the Turf.
"You couldn't try this if the horse didn't have the ability and like to train as much as he did," Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said. "He's the one who has brought himself here just because he likes to train, and he is progressing the right way.
"The injury won't really be a factor at all, and I don't think the rest of it will be a factor. I think if he's the best horse and gets some racing luck he'll be awful tough. It would be a sure nice culmination to see him run a good race."
The last filly to win the Turf was 42-1 shot Miss Alleged in 1991. There will be no such level of shock if the lady of this year's group is holding court at race's end.
"She's got a good mind on her, high cruising speed and a nice turn of foot; she has all of those factors," Gosden said of The Fugue. "If you have a great filly, there is no reason not to take on the colts."
When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
TV: Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic on NBC-18. All other races on NBC Sports.
Radio: WLXO-FM 96.1