The Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup
Keeneland / October1 / Race 9 / 5:13 EDT
by TimeformUS Analyst Justin Finch
The Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup has nine three-year-old fillies entered to go a mile and 1/8 on the grass. Early weather forecasts are predicting rain--lots of rain--for Friday. Saturday's weather is more up in the air, so to speak, but it seems probable that we are looking at a soft turf course for this race, and Daring Dancer's trainer sounds as if he will be scratching his filly if the course does indeed end up soft.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup will unfold at a pace that matches the turf course: Soft. Favoring frontrunners. Speed Seeker and Sea Queen are expected to be the two horses on the early lead, and it's a fair distance back to third-place, which is projected to be occupied by Crown Queen. Aurelia's Belle and Sistas Stroll follow close behind.
Let's look at the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Sistas Stroll (12-1): Won the Grade 3 Pucker Up on soft turf at Arlington Park, earning a speed figure of 98. That's a number that fits against all of her competition except Ball Dancing. Has improved her figure in every start. Has ace trainer Thomas Proctor in her corner. Projects for ground-saving stalking trip. Can't quarrel with anyone who considers her a viable longshot in here at 12-1 on the ML.
Minorette (9-2): One of two for the always-dangerous Chad Brown, she got beat on the square by Crown Queen in the Grade 2 Lake Placid. Proven many times over on good turf and already a Grade 1 winner, she fits in here, obviously, but she may find herself at a pace disadvantage. Strong contender.
Speed Seeker (12-1): After being decisively beaten by Daring Dancer at Saratoga, she returned to Woodbine for a Grade 3, looked to be in deep water at the top of the stretch, and then exploded between horses to win going away. But her speed figure for that effort was a mere 94, and the race received a Race Rating of only 90. Now Speed Seeker has to deal with Daring Dancer again--as well as a few horses who have given Daring Dancer quite a beating. Seems like a tall order.
Aurelia's Belle (15-1): Ran poorly in her only attempt on soft turf. She is one of the most experienced horses in the field. Her top speed figure, a 94, was earned on synthetic and leaves her needing a little bit more. This looks like a tough assignment.
Personal Diary (7-2): The most experienced horse in the field, she enters this race off a lifetime top speed figure of 97, earned in her victory in the Del Mar Oaks. However, that number was earned with an excellent set-up, as she raced well off a fast pace (denoted by the race fractions and pace figures being color-coded in red) and saved a lot of ground. Soft turf is a big question mark.
Ball Dancing (9-2): Consistently the fastest filly in the race, she has run speed figures of 100 or better on four separate occasions, while no other horse in the race has ever run a 100 or better. She won her first race off the plane from France, making a visually impressive late run in the Grade 2 Sands Point, a race in which she lagged well behind a slow pace. According to the Pace Projector, she will again be operating at a pace disadvantage. But her Late Pace rating, a 113, towers over this field, and trainer Chad Brown gets ratings of 98 with second off the layoff, 98 with second race for barn, 98 when attempting repeat victories, and 100 with second-time lasix. According to our Race Ratings, Ball Dancing (together with her returning victims from the Sands Point) exits the strongest race. Proven on off turf, too. The horse to beat.
Sea Queen (5-1): 3 for 8 lifetime, this Clement filly has been racing for seven months without a break, and she has been banging out more or less the same race every time-- always earning speed figures between 94 and 99. These numbers fit in here, and she just gave Ball Dancing a decent run, but she did so only after getting a relatively soft trip.
Crown Queen (4-1): Looking for her fourth straight win. 1 for 1 on good turf. Has improved her speed figure in every start: 84 88 91 93 98. Trained by the great Bill Mott, who is no stranger to winning streaks, she projects for an outside stalking trip today. She figures to get quite the jump on Ball Dancing. She is loaded with upside.
Daring Dancer (6-1): Badly beaten by Ball Dancing in the Sands Point, she is likely to scratch if the turf comes up soft. Filly seems to run hot and cold. Her best efforts fit reasonably well in here.
Win bet on Ball Dancing.
Use Ball Dancing over and under Crown Queen and Minorette in exotics.