Will Sentiero Italia Win Again in Queen Elizabeth II Stakes?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Following the epic, non-stop racing action of the last two weekends, things will slow down considerably this Saturday, with only two graded stakes races on the agenda. However, one of those races is the always-exciting $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. I) at Keeneland, a nine-furlong race for three-year-old fillies that serves both as a prestigious prize in its own right and as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I). A talented field of nine fillies is set to contest the race—let’s take a look at the field!

Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (gr. I)

On paper, there doesn’t appear to be a ton of early speed in this race, but it doesn’t seem to be lacking in pace either—several of the entries have shown a tendency to race on or near the lead, so the pace should be respectable and not too slow. Regardless, the pace shouldn’t matter to Sentiero Italia, who has shown great versatility in running style throughout her career. She broke her maiden in gate-to-wire fashion going nine furlongs at Aqueduct back in April, and after winning an allowance race and finishing a very respectable fourth in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (gr. I), she has taken a big step forward in her last two races. Two starts back, she settled a couple length behind a slow pace in the nine-furlong Lake Placid Stakes (gr. II) before flying home her final three furlongs in about :33 4/5 to win by 1 ¼ lengths over the talented Miss Temple City. She then came back a month later and romped in the nine-furlong Sands Point Stakes (gr. II) over a course labeled "good," tracking the pace in second before drawing clear in the homestretch to win by 3 ¾ lengths over Blond Me, with Miss Temple City another neck back in third. It’s also worth noting that Sentiero Italia was conceding Blond Me and Miss Temple City four pounds that day, and now all three fillies will be carrying 121 pounds, which should only help Sentiero Italia’s chances.

Given that she’s 3-for-3 going nine furlongs and is proven on both firm turf and good turf, Sentiero Italia shouldn’t be affected by whatever course conditions arise on Saturday, and figures to be very tough to beat if she runs her best race. Furthermore, Kiaran McLaughlin is already thinking ahead to the possibility of running Sentiero Italia in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, which suggests he’s confident that she’s ready for another big race. She’ll likely be the favorite, and perhaps a heavy favorite, but I also think she warrants a short price and would actually offer some value at 6-5 or higher. Since the size and overall quality of the field should ensure that she doesn’t go off at too short a price, I’ll take Sentiero Italia as my selection to win.

For the exotics, the fillies that intrigue me most are Feathered, Miss Temple City, and Return to Grace. The first-mentioned filly has never finished worse than second in four starts on turf, including narrow defeats in the American Oaks (gr. I) and Lake George Stakes (gr. II), and figures to be sent to the lead after drawing post eight. She showed a lot of fight on both occasions when challenged in the homestretch, and while she’s facing a deeper field today, I think she’ll be involved at the finish as long as the pace isn’t too fast. Miss Temple City has been beaten twice by Sentiero Italia, but ran a great race to finish fourth in the Coronation Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot three starts back, losing by just two lengths to the talented fillies Ervedya and Found. After failing to produce her best form in the Sands Point Stakes, flattening out in the homestretch after making a move to challenge for the lead, she’ll race on Lasix in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, which suggests she might have bled a bit in the Sands Point. According to DRF statistics, trainer Graham Motion wins at a 25% strike rate with horses adding Lasix, which is particularly noteworthy since Motion’s overall win percentage over the last four years is hovering at around 17%. I think Miss Temple City is poised to show improvement on Saturday, although turning the tables on Sentiero Italia will be a difficult task.

Lastly, Return to Grace won the 10.5-furlong Dueling Ground Oaks at Kentucky Downs last time out with a big late run, and two starts back she missed by just a nose in the Pucker Up Stakes (gr. III) at Arlington Park while running her final furlong in around :11 flat, or perhaps slightly less. She doesn’t have much early speed, but she has one of the strongest stretch kicks of any filly in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, and could definitely make her presence felt if a respectable pace unfolds to set up her late run. Additionally, trainer Mark Casse is off to a spectacular start at the Keeneland meet, winning with five of his first 12 starters for a 42% win rate. In other words, his horses have been running extremely well at this meet, and I’m hoping to see Return to Grace turn in a career-best effort to get on the board at 10-1 or higher. In fact, if Sentiero Italia goes off at even-money or less, I would seriously consider making Return to Grace my new selection based on value.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes?


With the majority of the Breeders' Cup prep races having been run, it's time to start some early handicapping of the races! In most years, one of the trickier races to handicap is the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and since this race is usually a key part of the Pick 6--as well as a major early prep race for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I)--it deserves some extra-special handicapping attention in the weeks leading up to the Breeders' Cup.

Therefore, to aid everyone in handicapping the race, here's a list of some of the key contenders, along with replays of their races. Enjoy!

Brody's Cause
1st Breeders' Futurity (gr. I)
1st Maiden Special Weight
8th Maiden Special Weight

Cocked and Loaded
1st Iroquois Stakes (gr. III)
5th Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III)
6th Sanford Stakes (gr. III)
1st Tremont Stakes
1st Maiden Special Weight

Conquest Big E
1st Maiden Special Weight
2nd Maiden Special Weight

2nd Breeders' Futurity (gr. I)
1st Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II)
1st Maiden Special Weight
5th Maiden Special Weight

Gift Box
1st Maiden Special Weight
3rd Maiden Special Weight

1st Champagne Stakes (gr. I)
1st Maiden Special Weight
2nd Maiden Special Weight

Gun Runner
1st Maiden Special Weight 

Justin Squared
1st Maiden Special Weight 

1st FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I)
1st Del Mar Futurity (gr. I)
1st Best Pal Stakes (gr. II)
1st Maiden Special Weight

6th Champagne Stakes (gr. I)
1st Hopeful Stakes (gr. I)
2nd Graduation Stakes
5th Summer Juvenile Championship Stakes
1st Maiden Special Weight
4th Maiden Special Weight

Rated R Superstar
3rd Breeders' Futurity (gr. I)
2nd Iroquois Stakes (gr. III)
1st Maiden Special Weight
2nd Maiden Special Weight

1st Grey Stakes (gr. III)
1st Swynford Stakes
1st Colin Stakes
1st Maiden Special Weight

4th Breeders' Futurity (gr. I)
1st Maiden Special Weight
2nd Maiden Special Weight

2nd FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I)
2nd Del Mar Futurity (gr. I)
2nd Best Pal Stakes (gr. II)
1st Summer Juvenile Championship Stakes
3rd Tremont Stakes
2nd Maiden Special Weight

Tale of S'avall
5th Champagne Stakes (gr. I)
1st Maiden Special Weight

Unbridled Outlaw
3rd Iroquois Stakes (gr. III)
1st Maiden Special Weight
3rd Maiden Special Weight


To help keep track of all the Breeders' Cup prep races, here is the link to Bloodhorse.com's Breeders' Cup news page. Also, here is the link to the currrent standings, entries, rules, and schedule for our "Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing, everyone!

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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