The 36th running of the Queen Elizabeth II highlights the weekend of racing at Keeneland, and Her Majesty will have a starter in the race for the first time. The grade 1 event for 3yo fillies at a mile and an eighth on the lawn is bolstered by the debut of the royal silks in her namesake race. Magnetic Charm will be Her Majesty’s first starter at the central Kentucky oval since October of 2008 when the Danehill Dancer mare Medley ran 4th in an allowance event. While the QEII is the centerpiece of the weekend, there are ample opportunities to put your gambling dollars to work in the high quality maiden and allowance events that fill the majority of the race cards.
Friday, Race 3
This non-winners of 2 other than allowance event for three-year olds drew a field of 6. Two of them will take a significant amount of money, but one of those should be viewed with a strong dose of skepticism. Todd Pletcher has been one of the most successful trainers in North America for the last two decades, but he has always struggled bringing horses back on short rest. Each of his Derby winners have run up the track two weeks later in the Preakness. He prefers the Florida Derby, and the 5-6 weeks it provides prior to the first Saturday in May, as his primary Kentucky Derby prep. Pletcher horses usually excel when he has at least 5 weeks between starts to get them good and re-juiced after a taxing effort. E
n Wye Cee got up to prevail by a head after a stretch long duel at Belmont in a first level allowance contest just 3 weeks ago. Given that he is now 2 for 2, trained by Pletcher, and ridden by John Velazquez, he will command a material amount of the action in the win pool. That 3 week turn-around makes him a strong play against in this spot. Gray Magician has rebounded nicely since his Derby debacle. He filled the runner-up spot behind multiple graded stakes winner Mr. Money in the Indiana Derby, claimed victory over Breeders’ Futurity winner Knicks Go and the re-opposing Night Ops in the Ellis Park Derby, and just missed all the money by a head in the grade 3 Smarty Jones at Parx. The Peter Miller trainee picks up the meet’s leading rider, Javier Castellano, and looks like the safest bet in this spot.
Friday, Race 8
Mutakaamil looks well meant to break his maiden against this group. He ran very well second time out to be beaten less than 2 lengths by Mihos, who briefly joined the Derby trail after taking down the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream in his next start. The Tapit colt is a grandson of the very good race mare Habibti (3rd in the KY Oaks) and has trained forwardly in advance of his first start since November. The connections have taken their time to have him ready. Expect a big effort.
Friday, Race 9 – the Grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County
A full field of 14 turf sprinting fillies and mares presents quite the challenge in this dash on the grass. Most of the serious speed is lined up outside in the form of Goldwood and Girls Know Best. Those 2 should do enough up front to insure an honest pace. Morticia will likely end up the lukewarm favorite. The 5yo daughter of Twirling Candy will attempt to eclipse the million dollar earnings mark over a track where she has never finished off the board in 5 prior attempts. She captured the Giant’s Causeway here in the spring and exits a wire to wire triumph over the undulating course at Kentucky Downs. Her backers should certainly not be faulted for their faith.
Oleksandra has traded shots with Morticia in her last 2, emerging victorious in the Smart and Fancy at Saratoga before filling the show spot at Kentucky Downs. The Aussie filly is more pace dependent than her chief American rival and will need the leaders to really sizzle, like they did going :43 and 1 at Saratoga, in order to set up her stretch run. Hotshot Anna is an intriguing value play. She exits 3 straight wins, including a grade 2 over the all weather surface at Presque Isle in her most recent outing. The Trappe Shot filly is in tremendous overall form with 7 victories from her last 8 starts. She has the tactical speed necessary to keep herself out of trouble in this large field and certainly has the ability to pop at the right price. Take These Chains would merit consideration should she draw in off the also-eligible list. She spent the first part of the year tangling with some of the best middle distance fillies in the country and cuts back to one turn in her first start for Ben Colebrook.
Saturday, Race 1
An unimposing group in this 8 1/2 furlong test for fillies and mares on the main track leaves one with sound reasoning to back the British invader. Eve Harrington was purchased at the 2017 Keeneland September Sale by Sir Mark Prescott and promptly sent across the pond to begin her early racing career. She fared ok on the all weather tracks at Southwell and Newcastle, but did not take to the grass at Yarmouth. Her pedigree suggests nothing but dirt, and she is set to make her debut on that surface in this spot. Trainer Brendan Walsh has been on a hot streak as of late, winning with 33% of his starters over the first 4 days of this meet and 25% of starters making their North American debuts this year. The Flatter filly has trained well under his care since shipping back to the states and appears to be dangerous.
Saturday, Race 7
It looks like Wesley Ward will only run 1 of the horses he has entered in this non-winners of 2 other than sprint on the lawn. If Onthewaytonevrland gets the nod, he would be worth backing at the 5/1 morning line. After winning the Rushaway at Turfway, he very nearly took the field all the way in the grade 3 Transylvania going a mile and a sixteenth over the Keeneland green. Prior to those two stakes efforts, the No Nay Never gelding’s last sprint race resulted in just a neck defeat to none other than Stubbins, victor of the grade 2 Woodford over this course last weekend. Ward can get a horse ready off a lengthy layoff, and if he gives this one the green light – head to the window.
Saturday, Race 9 – the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II
Becoming enamored with the American-based fillies in this top level contest at 9 furlongs on the lawn is a trying endeavor. Cambier Parc sought reprieve from the brilliant Concrete Rose and shipped west to earn her grade 1 glory in the Del Mar Oaks at this distance. She will go favored based off that success, her perfect record at the distance, and her head-to-head record with several others in this field. If not for a terrible trip in the Regret at Churchill, Varenka would be the winner of 4 straight, including a dead heat with Regal Glory in the grade 2 Lake Placid last out. She overcame slow paces in her last 2 and will likely have to do the same here in a tougher spot. The boys in blue ship French guineas winner Castle Lady in for this affair. While she disappointed at Royal Ascot, the strength of her Longchamp victory bodes well for the connections in this spot.
Finally, the Queen’s filly appears very well meant in this spot. Her two wins across the pond both came over ground rated good to fast. Could it be that she was shipped to the states, as many Euros are, in search of firm ground? If so, she was unlucky to catch a yielding course in her North American debut. She claimed the runner-up position against older fillies that day, 4 lengths adrift of the nice 6yo race mare Starship Jubilee in a grade 2 at Woodbine. The 95 Beyer she earned that day is a full 5 points better than what any other filly in this field has earned in their career. Could it be that the Queen of England has waited 36 years to run a sophomore filly in this race named in her honor because she was simply waiting for just the right one to come along?
Best of luck at the windows. Follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook.