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Three-year old fillies take center stage at Keeneland on Saturday in an invitational named in honor of the United Kingdom’s matriarch. The 34th running of the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, a 9 furlong race on the grass, lost its morning-line favorite Friday morning when Godolphin announced that Wuheida would scratch. Ten top class fillies remain in what still looks like a very impressive renewal of the race despite losing the Group 1 winner from across the pond. The feature is supported by a strong cast of maiden and allowance events that offer a number of enticing wagering opportunities.
Race 5 on Saturday drew a field of 11 colts and geldings going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf course. In a field mostly full of 1 for lifers, preference goes to several more lightly raced horses that have not yet fully proven to be nothing more than mediocre. Takeoff is eligible to improve in his second start on the grass. He exits a sprint at Kentucky Downs where he made up almost 5 lengths in the last quarter mile in his first start back from a lengthy layoff. Belgian is making his second start back from a brief freshening and should move forward off a close runner-up finish in a mile race at Kentucky Downs. Hollow Point faded when going too far in the Dueling Grounds Derby and will be much better suited going a quarter mile shorter against softer competition in this spot. Flash Harry also makes his second start of the form cycle and first since being gelded. He’ll need to figure out how to save some ground drawn widest of all in post 11.
The 6th race for 2yo maidens going 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track drew a full field of 12 including several intriguing first-timers that could juice up the exotics. Sargeant Drive is 12/1 on the morning line for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who often does not have his horses fully cranked for their debuts. This colt’s work pattern looks like he may be fit enough to put forth a strong effort first time out. He posted three works over the deep surface of Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track and then shipped to Keeneland to post a :47 and 3 half-mile breeze from the gate last Saturday. The royally bred son of Tapit is out of the very good race mare Carriage Trail, who had 3 victories, including the Grade 1 Spinster, over the dreaded Keeneland polytrack. He may be talented enough to put a scare into the favorites, Royal Creed and Kilroy Was Here. Loup fired a 5 furlong bullet in :59 flat over this surface last Friday and is another meriting strong consideration from the Ignacio Correas barn, who fires at a very respectable 17% with his first time starters.
Keep your eyes on The Bull in race 7. The Aussie shipper gets Lasix for his North American debut for owner and trainer Brian Lynch. Julien Leparoux, who had been the regular rider for two other contenders in here, picks up the mount.
Race 8 is a 3/4 mile sprint on the main track for 3yo fillies, and it drew a wide-open field of 12. Several to pay attention to at double digit odds on the morning line are Laura B., Perfect Wife, Delphinia, and Promises Broken. Laura B. won her first two starts at Northlands Park by a combined 24 lengths. Though this is undoubtedly a significant step up in competition, both the second place finisher from her debut and the third place finisher from her most recent victory both came back to win their next starts. Keep in mind these are horses that Laura B. defeated by double digit lengths. It looks like she was then purchased privately by Brad Grady and Taylor Made Farm and subsequently transferred to the care of Joe Sharp. The daughter of Run Away and Hide has posted a couple good works locally and looks like she might just fit with the rest of these. Perfect Wife won a minor stake race in her 3rd career start and then jumped into the deep end of the pool where she was pummeled by the likes of It Tiz Well and Elate. She gets back to the surface she prefers after a grass experiment and should appreciate the cut back in distance over the track where she broke her maiden at first asking last autumn. Delphinia is another who has been trying different things of late. She comes into this off three discouraging performances over grass and polytrack. The pricey 2yo-in training purchase for Stonestreet ran decent in her only other dirt start, a 2nd place effort here in her debut last fall. Perhaps what is most interesting is that Mike Smith picks up the mount for Wesley Ward. Promises Broken crept into a photo for the show spot when rounding out the superfecta in the Grade 2 Beaumont in the spring meet.
The QEII goes as race 9 and is really an exceptional betting race. The top 4 finishers from the Del Mar Oaks all return in this spot as well as the defending Breeders’ Cup champion and the fillies that swept the last 3 graded stakes in New York for this division. Dream Dancing, Beau Recall, and Madam Dancealot finished in that order, only a neck apart, in the Del Mar Oaks. They are all in with a solid chance, as is Con Te Partiro who finished just over a length behind those three and now gets to run over her home track. Proctor’s Ledge was very impressive in her last two victories for Brendan Walsh at Saratoga, but she loses rider Javier Castellano who instead chose New Money Honey, the only two-time Grade 1 winner in the field. La Coronel looked like she might be the best in this division back in the spring when she swept the Grade 3 Appalachian here and Edgewood at Churchill. A less than ideal trip to Royal Ascot ensued, and she has not yet returned to her Kentucky spring-time form since her return from the United Kingdom. She has displayed an obvious fondness for the Keeneland lawn in the past, and it would certainly be dangerous to overlook her in this spot. With no speed whatsoever signed on, look for Jose Lezcano to once again ride La Coronel aggressively from the gate and try to steal this on the front end. New Money Honey will be the likely favorite and deservedly so. She has taken the two marquee events in this division the last two seasons with last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf and the Belmont Oaks Invitational this July. She sits atop the division until one of these other fillies can step up and beat her.