Euro Shippers Look Tough in Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup

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

With just three weeks remaining until the 2019 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, I was tempted to kick off coverage of the much-anticipated championship event with an early look at the major players in each race.

But then I saw the field for Saturday's $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. I) at Keeneland, and I changed my mind. This 1 1/8-mile grass race for three-year-old fillies has drawn an excellent field with eight stakes winners and six graded stakes winners. From top to bottom, it's a high-quality race. Even better, I think there's a lot of potential for nice payoffs in this competitive field.

I'll concede that #3 Cambier Parc (8-5) is a deserving favorite in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. I've been a big fan of this Chad Brown-trained filly, who unleashed a powerful turn-of-foot to defeat stablemate Newspaperofrecord in the 1 1/8-mile Wonder Again Stakes (gr. III) three starts back.

Cambier Parc has done little wrong in two starts since then. After employing pace-tracking tactics to finish third in the 1 ¼-mile Belmont Oaks (gr. I) behind division standout Concrete Rose, Cambier Parc bounced back against easier competition in the 1 1/8-mile Del Mar Oaks (gr. I), rallying strongly in the stretch to win going away by 1 ¼ lengths.

Cambier Parc has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to finish fast, and she's also displayed enough tactical speed to suggest she can stay within touch of the early leaders in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. This is important since this race is severely lacking in pace players and figures to unfold at a slow tempo.

But in my opinion, the filly who could really take advantage of a slow pace is #5 Castle Lady (7-2), a formidable Godolphin homebred bringing high-class form from Europe.

Trained by Henri-Alex Pantall, this daughter of Shamardal opened her career with three straight victories in France. On each occasion, she displayed tactical speed, staying in touch with the leaders before accelerating to win.

Castle Lady's most notable triumph came in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) at Longchamp, where she prevailed by a nose over subsequent Prix de Diane (French Oaks) runner-up Commes. Finishing 2 ¾ lengths back in sixth place was a filly named Watch Me.

Castle Lady subsequently disappointed in the Coronation Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot, finishing mid-pack while failing to display her typical tactical speed. But the form of her Poule d'Essai des Pouliches victory still received a boost since the Coronation winner was Watch Me, who subsequently reiterated her own class by finishing a close third in the prestigious Prix de l'Opera Longines (Fr-I) at Longchamp.

Now the question is whether Castle Lady can rebound in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. She hasn't run since the Coronation, but perhaps the time off will do her good. One thing seems certain—her classic-winning form in France is a credit none of her Keeneland rivals can match, and in terms of Racing Post Ratings, she looms as the filly to beat. Her regular jockey Mickael Barzalano will retain the mount, and with a favorable pace setup in the offing, I believe Castle Lady is the most likely winner.

For the exotics, I'm intrigued by #7 Magnetic Charm (12-1) as a live longshot. Owned by none other than Queen Elizabeth II herself, Magnetic Charm has shown flashes of promise in England, most notably finishing second by a neck in the one-mile Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot, where she earned a 112 Racing Post Rating equal to Castle Lady's best rating.

But perhaps the most exciting bit of form Magnetic Charm has displayed came in the Canadian Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine last month, her North American debut. Facing a deep field of older rivals, including the graded stakes winners Starship Jubilee, Competitionofideas, and Holy Helena, Magnetic Charm produced a nice rally from last place to finish second.

The possibility of a slow pace on Saturday could make it difficult for Magnetic Charm to reach the winner's circle, but I think she's a great candidate to use underneath while facing her own age group. If her 12-1 morning line odds hold up, I would also consider playing her on top.

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


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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

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