HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 12, 2023 – Likely it’s because the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup invitational is limited to three-year-olds that it won’t get the attention it truly deserves as it comes three weeks in advance of Breeders’ Cup. So, I get that, and I don’t.
This 1-1/8 miles for fillies is a highly sought-after prize that attracts top class talent year after year. This year it has outdone itself. So we may or may not see the winner or another top performer in the Breeders’ Cup if they return on short rest by today’s standards.
And the trip is a bit more than a hop, skip and a jump from Lexington to Arcadia.
The top American according to the linemaker is Irish-bred Elusive Princess (3-1) who shipped in from France to win the G3 Saratoga Oaks Invitational in high style. The latest Euro challenger is Mawj (2-1), the GR 1 Thousand Guineas winner at Newmarket on May 7.
Given a ground-saving trip by Flavien Prat in Saratoga, ‘Princess’ followed wide-moving Papilio into the Saratoga straight and showed her class to power away late, winning in hand as much the best. The good trip helped, of course, but the filly making her first start for Arnaud Delacour here is a runner.
Godolphin-bred Mawj won her Guineas off a 2-1/2 month break and will make her U.S having been away over five months this time, but trainer Saaed bin Suroor, who learned his trade in the U.S. a few decades ago, knows how to do this. These days he shares the Godolphin stock with Charles Appleby.
Mawj impressed winning the Guineas. She was on the pace with the stands-side group throughout, dug down deep, and won a stretch duel with heavily favored superstar filly, Dermot Weld-trained Tahirya. She gave no quarter to the favorite all the way to the finish post as they spread-eagled the field. Oison Murphy is not letting her out of his sight.
Several other European shippers merit respect—indeed, five of the 12 fillies in the body of this race had their last or penultimate start over there—notably Sounds of Heaven (8-1) and Elounda Queen (10-1). They bring the number of foreign-bred horses to seven.
Two starts back, Sounds of Heaven was on a contested pace throughout while racing between fillies in the G1 Coronation at Ascot, surging late despite her early exertions but just missing place by a diminishing head, a length behind the aforementioned Tahirya.
While not as fast on the Thoro-Graph scale, Elouda Queen nevertheless is a progressive sort, taking the G3 Prix de Leurey European de l’Everage going one mile, coming from last of 11 with an eye-catching turn of foot. A granddaughter of Galileo and Mastercraftsman, added distance might suit her very well.
Since no American Grade 1 on turf could exist without an appearance from Chad Brown who, seeking his sixth Queen Elizabeth, brings a pair of graded stakes winners in Prerequisite (20-1) and Liguria (15-1). The former is faster, is training with purpose, but will need to secure position from her outside draw.
Getting back to Elusive Princess, it was Papilio (10-1) who had the more difficult journey at the Spa, racing wide throughout, rallying even wider on the far turn, understandably unable to sustain her momentum. With patience, she has a big kick if Javier Castellano can time it just right.
Oh, and Lindy has chased four-time Group winner Blue Rose Cen all over Europe this spring and summer before winning her U.S. debut at Churchill in September.
Mawj and Elusive Princess appear to have a class edge in this well stocked lineup but Sounds of Heaven, Elounda Queen and Lindy, all fellow Euros, seem likely to fall between the parimutuel cracks and would add excellent value to any pool.
The HRI Late Pick 5 Challenge at Keeneland…
Actually, it’s a self challenge. Since there never is enough money in a handicapper’s bankroll to rock and roll in the Breeders’ Cup, we’ll hope for a winning five-figure return but would not look down upon a four-figure payout, enough for he weekend of NOV 3-4 at Santa Anita Park. Let’s take a look:
MAIDEN ALLOWANCES Race 6
The Skinny: If the racing gods are kind, this two-turner for juvenile colts will turn out to be the two-horse matchup it appears on paper, namely Dornoch (7-2) and Dive Bomber (5-2), keeping the cost down.
When last seen, Dornoch, obviously still a maiden, was a very good second in Monmouth’s Sapling. After getting bumped into the 5-6 path on the first turn, he continued outside all the way, making a strong turn-move to take the lead into the lane, but was nailed late by the one-run Pletcher-trained Noted.
Favored in that event, he returns with non-winners and we should note that trainer Danny Gargan is 33% effective in that scenario. Luis Saez, who partnered with him in his sprint debut, takes the re-ride.
However, Dornoch, and the rest of the group, has Brad Cox’s Dive Bomber to beat. In his most recent run, he chased the very promising Chad trainee General Partner at 7 furlongs, a very sharp effort first time in blinkers. Coming into this off graduating distances, he owns a layover Thoro-Graph figured and has trained very well for his two turn debut.
SECONDARY ALLOWANCES Race 7
The Skinny: Can one trust a turf shipper from SoCal at 6-5? Maybe, maybe not, but he is a must-use in any pool. Dropping out of a Grade 2 where, forced to maintain good stalking position, Nineeleventurbo moved prematurely to the lead, settling for second and snapping a four-race winning streak.
Second in her lone start at Keeneland early in her career, Flavien Prat will need to time the move just right, as he often does. On the early line, Foreign Relations (9-2) offers better value.
Used early in the KD Turf Cup, he was beaten only three lengths in the G1 United Nations, two starts after taking Churchill’s G3 Louisville Stakes. A winner at the 12-furlong trip, Tyler G gets the ride from Johnny V who stays with Todd Pletcher’s Sharar (12-1).
The latter was second behind repeat winner Balladeer last time out after racing wide and failing to change leads through the late stages.
All three will be on our tickets as A contenders. Larger bankrolls should feel free to include Altazor (20-1) at anything close to early odds. Mastercraftsman 6YO is bred for marathons and turf ace Cheminaud sticks after a game-rally finish vs an unusual prevailing speed bias in Franklin, KY, Has trained purposefully since for Ignacio Correas.
SECONDARY ALLOWANCES Race 8
The Skinny: Here’s where it gets expensive. The wide open field of fillies at the demanding sprint trip of 6-1/2 furlongs features a handful of horses coming off lengthy layups from top barns who’d love to win a race in Lexington. But is today the day or one down the road?
To be honest, we left seven of the 11 fillies entered open: Pumpkin Scone (9-2), Rosie’s Alibi (12-1), You Little Vixen (10-1), Little Blaze (6-1), Zeitlos (5-1), Accede (7-2) and Rarify (8-1). We’ve taken three out of the ‘A’ group and are left with four.
Pumpkin Scone never has taken a back step, so she remains forward coming off an impressive maiden breaker at Ellis. Brad Cox gave the re-ride to Gerardo Corrales and it’s time she earned more towards her lofty $1.25 million purchase price.
Zeitlos went well at the trip on KD turf and Asmussen has solid 20% turf to dirt stats. She’s raced well twice beneath Cristain Torres and her lifetime Thoro-Graph best was at today’s venue.
Accede won on debut for Chad, also goes turf to dirt, appears well placed at this trip and reunites with Irad, her winning partner. Rarify, making her 3-year-old debut, has run well in all starts, broke maiden here with Rosario, today’s partner, and goes first-Lasix for Wesley Ward, a 26% scenario.
SECONDARY ALLOWANCES Race 10
The Skinny: As the saying goes, you have to single somewhere, and First Mission (1-1) is the most logical suspense in today’s sequence, but it’s more than just SOP. If not First Mission, then who? It would be another spread scenario with no guarantee of success.
When last seen, First Mission was winning the G3 Lexington here at today’s trip, beating the talented Arabian Lion and Disarm in the process. Brad Cox has ordered seven timed workouts dating back to AUG 29 for his return and has booked Luis Saez, his Lexington partner, for this assignment.
As stated, if not First Mission, who? We’re back Saturday to lay out the sequence.
KEENELAND LATE PICK 5 BETTING GRID…
2.12 // 1.6 // 188.8.131.52 // 184.108.40.206.8 // 1 = $40
this is a live column and will be updated throughout the weekend