By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
With the Breeders’ Cup now little more than three weeks away, the racing action in the U.S. this Saturday is naturally going to be a bit calmer than it was on the last two weekends, with just two graded stakes races scheduled to be held on October 11th. Fortunately for racing fans, one of those races is the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Lane’s End (gr. I) at Keeneland, which may produce a starter or two for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
A total of nine three-year-old fillies have been entered in this nine-furlong turf race, and finding the winner will not be an easy task. Many of the fillies have taken turns beating each other all year long, meaning that high odds and good value should abound for those that can find the winning horse.
The morning line favorite at 7-2 is Personal Diary, who enters off a decisive 2 ¾-length triumph in the Del Mar Oaks (gr. I) on August 16th. Her last three races have been very good, and she possesses a strong finishing kick (she ran the final furlong of the Del Mar Oaks in about :11 3/5), but if she has an edge over her rivals, it’s not a large one. In fact, she has in the past been beaten by four of the other Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup starters.
One of those fillies is Sea Queen, a 5-1 shot on the morning line. Trained by Christophe Clement, Sea Queen defeated Personal Diary by three-quarters of a length in a Keeneland allowance race this spring, and later went on to finish a good second in the Belmont Oaks (gr. I) behind Minorette. But then Sea Queen was beaten fair and square by Personal Diary in the Del Mar Oaks (Sea Queen was fourth), and then finished third behind Ball Dancing in the Sands Point Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont. But speaking of Minorette, she lost to Sea Queen in the Wonder Again Stakes at Belmont, then turned the tables in the Belmont Oaks before finishing fourth in the Lake Placid Stakes (gr. II) behind Crown Queen. And then there’s Daring Dancer, who beat Personal Diary last year, finished fifth behind Sea Queen and Minorette in the Wonder Again, won the Lake George Stakes (gr. II) over Speed Seeker, and finished sixth behind Ball Dancing and Sea Queen in the Sands Point Stakes…
Confused yet? My apologies—I couldn’t resist expounding a bit on the wide-open nature of this race… :)
Getting a bit more serious, I really like the chances of Ball Dancing, the above-mentioned winner of the Sands Point Stakes. The American-bred filly made the first five starts of her career in France, where she won a listed stakes and finished a very good fifth in the Prix de Diane Longines (Fr-I) at Chantilly, beaten just 1 ¾ lengths by Avenir Certain, who finished eleventh in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) as one of the favorites. Subsequently transferred to the barn of Chad Brown, Ball Dancing made her U.S. debut in the Sands Point and rallied from six lengths behind a slow pace to win by a half-length. She ran her final three-eighths in approximately :34 2/5, a very sharp time, and should be able to work out a nice trip while starting from post six.
I also like the chances of Crown Queen, who finished third in her first two starts before putting together a three-race win streak that culminated with a gritty half-length victory in the Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga. It’s hard to get a feel for how good her performance was, as the pace was slow and there were only four horses in the race, but in her previous start, she demonstrated a spectacular turn-of-foot to win a 9.5-furlong allowance race at Saratoga by four lengths. Like Ball Dancing, she possesses the ability to settle off-the-pace and finish strongly, but she has also shown the ability to stalk a slow pace, and that can be a major tactical advantage. Choosing between Ball Dancing and Crown Queen isn’t easy, but assuming the latter stays near her 4-1 morning line price, I’ll side with the latter for the top spot and hope she holds off Ball Dancing in the homestretch.
Who do you like in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup?