The final set of Breeders' Cup preps has drawn to a close, but there is still plenty of classy racing going on between now and the Breeders' Cup at the end of the month. Picks and Ponderings keeps it green this weekend, previewing a pair of nine-furlong turf stakes. This preview will focus on the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (GI), the final top-class turf event of the year that is restricted to three-year-old fillies.
This year marks the 32nd running of the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. The race was run for the first time in 1984, when Queen Elizabeth II came out to Keeneland and presented the trophy to Sintra, who won the race contested in her honour. The winners' circle in which she presented the trophy had been constructed for that very occasion. For the first 49 years of Keeneland's history, there was no winners' circle on the grandstand side. Winners' presentations were done on the track for most races, but on the infield for stakes races. Both for security reasons, and to avoid the possibility of making the Queen traipse across a muddy track if it rained on the day of her race, Keeneland constructed a winners' circle for the inaugural running of this race.
This year's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup features a field of nine, filled by invitation only, to compete for a purse of $500,000. The initial edition was run on the dirt at 1 1/16 miles, but it was moved to the grass the next year. 1990 saw the distance increased to its current 1 1/8 miles. The race has been graded since 1986, and has been a Grade I since 1991. The Pucker Up Stakes (G3) at Arlington often feeds into the Queen Elizabeth II, and this year that pattern repeats: this year, the top two finishers in the race, CAFE AMERICANO and PRINCESA CAROLINA, accepted invitations to the race. Three fillies have swept both the Pucker Up and the Queen Elizabeth II: Ticker Tape (2004), Vacare (2006), and Hot Cha Cha (2009). Those are not the only Arlington stakes winners to have made their mark in this race. Both 1984 Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Contredance (1985) and 1997 Beverly D winner Memories of Silver (1996) also won the Queen Elizabeth II.
Hot Cha Cha draws away late to win the 2009 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.
Selections are made for turf only.
Saturday, October 12
Race 9: Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles over the turf, post time 5:30pm EDT
This year's edition of the QEII drew a field of nine. It's full of quality, as this race is year-in and year-out...but it's not full of pace, making it an interesting tactical puzzle.
This is a top-class turf race in the United States, so you figure Chad Brown is going to have a say...and sure enough, three of the nine horses bed down in his shedrow: CAMBIER PARC, REGAL GLORY, and Pucker Up winner CAFE AMERICANO. CAMBIER PARC is the most class-proven of the bunch, and given how the pace is likely to set up, she is also the best-situated of the Brown brigade. Though she most recently came flying late to win the Del Mar Oaks (G1), she's no one-run closer: she adapted to sluggish paces in both the Herecomesthebride (G3) and the Wonder Again (G3) by sitting close up, and took top honours both times. That kind of trip will be good for her again. The nine-furlong distance of the race suits her nicely, as well; both the Wonder Again and the Del Mar Oaks came over that distance. In short, CAMBIER PARC is the one to beat.
However, in a race as competitive -- and tactically challenging -- as this, it's interesting to try and beat the chalk. And, CASTLE LADY is an appealing alternative. She has rested since a fifth-place finish in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot going a mile down the straight, but before that she started her career with three consecutive victories over a right-handed mile. She has shown she can situate herself close to the pace over that flat mile, suggesting she will be forward over this longer trip. This will be her first nine-furlong try, though being by Shamardal out of a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Raven's Pass, the distance has a right to suit her. Though her G1 win came on soft going, CASTLE LADY was a convincing G3 winner over firm, so she should have no problem with the ground. She has the class, the running style, and the pedigree to be a top contender.
Among the rest, both VARENKA and REGAL GLORY are the most appealing. They were the dead-heat winners of the Lake Placid (G2) on August 17, and both were able to make the best of a relatively slow pace in that race. VARENKA is a late runner, though she doesn't have to drop as far back as the real closers, and can unleash a nice kick. But, the advantage between the ones coming out of the Lake Placid goes to REGAL GLORY. REGAL GLORY should be sitting more forward based on her running style, and based on the fact that aggressive rider Luis Saez returns to the saddle with her. REGAL GLORY has to answer the question of a mile and an eighth: it's her first try at the distance, and the pedigree is a mixed bag (Animal Kingdom on top, a positive, though out of a mare who has produced more mile, mile and a sixteenth types), but this improving filly can get the right trip to be a factor.
#5 CASTLE LADY (7/2)
#3 CAMBIER PARC (8/5)
#9 REGAL GLORY (6/1)
Longshot: #2 KELSEY'S CROSS (15/1) needed a drop to allowance company to get back in the winners' circle last out, though was holding her own in some tough stakes races in her three starts leading up to that allowance win. She'll need a clear career best in order to take the race down, which seems unlikely. Though, she has the ability to sit reasonably close to the pace, something that will give her a jump on all the deeper closers in this field, and she has already proven that she can nibble at underneath shares going this long (and even longer) against class horses. That's enough to make KELSEY'S CROSS one to consider underneath to make those exotics pay.
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