By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The U.S. racing calendar is
close to entering its annual lull leading up to the Breeders' Cup. But before
top-class racing action goes on its brief hiatus, there are a couple of Grade 1
races to contest at Keeneland and Woodbine this week.
Let's dig into the entries
and settle on our selections:
Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland on Saturday
Ten years ago, Irish trainer
Aidan O'Brien pulled off a remarkable feat with a three-year-old filly named Together.
First, he shipped her to Keeneland to face older rivals in the one-mile First
Lady S. (G1), where she rallied gamely to finish second. Then O'Brien kept Together
at Keeneland to contest the 1 1/8-mile Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup one
week later, which she promptly won in comfortable fashion.
Will history repeat itself
with O'Brien's sophomore filly #4
Empress Josephine in the Saturday's renewal of the Queen Elizabeth? It's
A beautifully bred daughter
of Galileo out of multiple Group 1 winner Lillie Langtry, Empress Josephine has
already proven her worth against elite competition in Europe, battling to
victory in the Irish 1,000 Guineas (G1) during the spring. But Empress
Josephine has also displayed promising form at Keeneland. Taking a page out of Together's book, Empress Josephine contested the
First Lady last week and rallied gamely to finish third, beaten only one length
in a somewhat slow early/fast late race won by the pacesetter.
With this encouraging
stateside debut under her belt, Empress Josephine is eligible to come right
back and produce a winning effort in the Queen Elizabeth. Notably, she'll add
blinkers on Saturday, setting the stage for a more forwardly placed journey.
For second place, we'll
favor #3 Shantisara. The versatile
Chad Brown trainee dominated the 1 1/8-mile Pucker Up S. (G3) at Arlington Park
with a sharp rally from off the pace, then came back to nab the 1 3/8-mile
Jockey Club Oaks with a pace-pressing trip, suggesting Shantisara is capable of
adapting to any pace scenario under high-percentage jockey Flavien Prat.
E. P. Taylor S. (G1) at Woodbine on Sunday
An excellent field has
assembled for the E. P. Taylor, a 1 1/4-mile turf test for fillies and mares. All
ten entrants are stakes winners, and
many have won at the grade or group level.
There are some formidable
names among the proven Woodbine campaigners. #2 Etoile, for example, won the 2020 E. P. Taylor by a hard-fought
neck over #3 Court Return. Both
remain in good form; Etoile enters off a runner-up effort in the 1 1/4-mile
Dance Smartly S. (G2) behind #6 Mutamakina,
while Court Return exits a second-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Canadian S.
(G2) behind the rapidly improving #10 La
There are also a couple of
capable European raiders in the fray. #1
Waliyak arrives fresh off a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Prix Bertrand de
Tarragon (G3) in France, while #9
Keyflower enters off four consecutive top-three finishers, including a win
in the Prix Occitanie.
But both the locals and the
internationals may be overshadowed in the E. P. Taylor by #8 Great Island. Conditioned by Chad Brown (renowned for his
success training grass mares), Great Island is a talented, consistent, and
improving daughter of Scat Daddy. The five-year-old mare hasn't missed the
trifecta in eight starts, and her form lines this season just keep getting
Two starts back, Great
Island was deceptively impressive in the 1 1/8-mile Matchmaker S. (G3) at
Monmouth Park, finishing furiously into a modest pace to prevail by half a
length. And Great Island ran just as well or better in the 1 3/8-mile Flower
Bowl S. (G1) at Saratoga, last month, tracking the pace before settling for
second place behind probable Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) favorite
War Like Goddess.
Racing 1 3/8 miles in the
Flower Bowl possibly stretched the limits of Great Island's stamina, but even
still, she battled on gamely to edge stablemate My Sister Nat by a nose for the
runner-up spot. This performance was flattered when My Sister Nat came right
back to win the Waya S. (G3).
Cutting back to 1 1/4 miles
for the E. P. Taylor should suit Great Island just fine, so we won't get too creative
here. We'll count on Great Island to take home top honors and secure her first top-level
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Grade 1 stakes this weekend?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.