This year’s stakes races for older fillies and mares at Emerald Downs have taken a bit of a familiar rhythm, one that began last year. Stopshoppingdebbie, a daughter of Curlin out of the Wild Again mare Taste the Passion, swept the four stakes races for three-year-olds last year. Her stablemates from the Tom Wenzel barn, Goin to the Window and Blueberry Smoothie, filled out the trifectas in all four of those races. This year all three fillies returned to the stakes ranks at Emerald, with similar results. A rotating cast of characters, shrinking as Stopshoppingdebbie has continued to assert her dominance over the division, has gone with. In the Hastings Handicap, her first race of the season, a field of eight headed postward. The Washington State Legislators’ featured six. In the Boeing Handicap, only Madame Pele — who had finished second in the Hastings — took on the Wenzel trio.
Of anyone who had faced her at all this year, the only one who ever came close to making Stopshoppingdebbie sweat was Goin to the Window. She came charging late in the Washington State Legislators’ Handicap on June 8. Coming into the final sixteenth, she was narrowing her undefeated stablemate’s lead with every stride. Stopshoppingdebbie refused to lose. She dug in, maintained her half-length advantage in the last few jumps, and kept her record spotless.
The way the year was going, even the way the last two years were going, one had to wonder whether Sunday’s Emerald Distaff would be a three-filly affair.
Either the stakes coordinator at Emerald can move mountains, or the lure of a share of $65,000 (a purse $15,000 greater than any of the three aforementioned stakes) was enough to draw two others to take on Emerald Downs’ reigning girl group. She’s Stella Marie, eighth and last in the Hastings after breaking poorly, returned for her first race since late May in the Emerald Distaff. Wando Woman, a Hastings fixture who had finished second in last year’s Emerald Distaff, shipped down as well. This would be Wando Woman’s first time facing Stopshoppingdebbie.
Stopshoppingdebbie, breaking from the rail, went to the lead. Stablemate Blueberry Smoothie went right up with her, stalking just to her outside. Blueberry Smoothie went a bit wide going into the clubhouse turn, though, leaving her undefeated stablemate a length in front entering the backstretch. The advantage had become two lengths as the field approached the backstretch, but along came the closest thing to a nemesis that Stopshoppingdebbie has had all year: her other stablemate, Goin to the Window. She was gaining with every stride through the far turn, and was within a head of the leader near the three-sixteenths pole. They approached the furlong pole side-by-side, but then it started to become apparent that Stopshoppingdebbie had a bit more. She was not letting Goin to the Window go by. She edged away in the final sixteenth, winning by three-quarters of a length, and returning to the barn a perfect nine-for-nine. Goin to the Window was second, three lengths in front of Blueberry Smoothie, who completed the familiar Wenzel trifecta. Neither invader factored. Wando Woman, over a dozen lengths back early, left herself far too much ground to cover late. She only passed the fading She’s Stella Marie, and neither of those two seriously contended for a spot on the board.
The race meet at Emerald Downs does not end until September 28, but there is nothing left for Stopshoppingdebbie there this season. The Emerald Distaff is the final open stakes of the season for older fillies and mares. The only remaining stakes races for older horses are for Washington-breds, but Stopshoppingdebbie was bred in Kentucky. Three options remain: let her retire to broodmare duty undefeated yet practically untested, let her wait to race until next year’s races at Emerald…or consider racing her elsewhere. It seems from comments Wenzel made after the Emerald Distaff that he is considering the latter option, though has not made any decisions yet. Assuming Stopshoppingdebbie comes out healthy, I hope he tries her in a bit tougher spot.
Stopshoppingdebbie has already proven herself to be an excellent racehorse, for one meaningful definition of excellent. A perfect record or a long undefeated streak at any level is an achievement. Horses are not machines, and they can have bad days like any of us. For Stopshoppingdebbie to have gone to the post nine times and gotten home first nine times is a testament to her talent and her consistency. Nothing that happens from here on out can cast a shadow upon that. Still, she is the undisputed star of the filly and mare circuit at Emerald. It does not appear she will be tested there unless there is a freak of an invader, or her form starts to decline.
Neither Goin to the Window nor Blueberry Smoothie is a bad horse for their circuit. The fact that they keep outclassing their other rivals and keep hitting the board so often suggests that they are solid, consistent types. They are strong competition compared to the average class of horses to race on their circuit. It seems no stretch to suggest that one or both of them could have been stakes winners at Emerald Downs at either age three or age four had they not had the bad fortune of running into a juggernaut every single time they have raced.
That juggernaut, Stopshoppingdebbie, is just a cut above everyone else she faces at Emerald. Her performance has been strong enough to merit a step up in class. This is not to say she should go straight from the Emerald Distaff to a Grade I. No sane argument supports such an abrupt class jump. A conservative approach would still be exciting. She could try a listed stakes or a Grade III first. If she passes that test, she could step farther up the class ladder as warranted.
Stopshoppingdebbie is consistent, and she loves to win. She may or may not keep her spotless record against tougher company, but she is good enough that she deserves that test.