Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup
Saturday, Oct. 11, Keeneland
The Low-Down: The nation's marquee race this week definitely has a coast-to-coast feel about it. Keeneland spring meeting Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes winner ARIEGE reappears against Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks heroine MAGICAL FANTASY, multiple New York graded-stakes winner BACKSEAT RHYTHM and the Midwestern fiend STORM MESA, winner of the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks and Del Mar's Grade 2 San Clemente in previous road trips. For international flavor, French raider SEFROUA makes her second domestic start since coming to Graham Motion's care, while English stakes winner ROSA GRACE also is "second off the plane" since being moved to Christophe Clement's barn.
Our Eyes: Handicapping the QEII has to begin with a film study of the Sept. 6 Grade 1 Garden City Handicap at Belmont. Contenders BACKSEAT RHYTHM (first), ARIEGE (third), MY PRINCESS JESS (fourth) and ALWAJEEHA (sixth) all exit the key race. Without a doubt, MY PRINCESS JESS had the worst of the trips and is no worse than second-best amongst this group discussed. She was moving smartly on the far turn and had the unenviable chore of having to make the first aggressive run at the open-lengths leaders. But PRINCESS JESS had to press on the breaks mid-turn, then had no seam on the fence for much of the stretch run as others outside her were advantaged, ARIEGE especially and eventually BACKSEAT RHYTHM.
At 1-1/8 miles, I vastly rate MY PRINCESS JESS over ARIEGE, and she might be capable of upending BACKSEAT RHYTHM. However, a dastardly draw in post No. 10 will make that a daunting goal for MY PRINCESS JESS in the QE II. Still, she's armed and dangerous for Barclay Tagg. The Achilles heel for BACKSEAT RHYTHM has been her inability to win outside of New York. She's 0-for-4 combined at Monmouth, Gulfstream (twice) and Hollywood Park.
So if the Garden City alumni, after further inspection and Saturday's raceday circumstances, don't scream for their unabashed support, the contender pool deepens. Nine furlongs over a Keeneland turf much more lush than Del Mar's green figures to be a major challenge to the quick, but talented STORM MESA. So perhaps the European exports deserve longer looks.
SEFROUA looms a danger after finishing a solid third in her U.S. unveiling when taking on older fillies and mares in the Grade 3 Noble Damsel. She adds Lasix today and should appreciate the return to sophomores and the extra distance since she's by Kingmambo. Her dam, Sophisticat, won the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Ascot going a flat mile, but that mare is out of Serena's Song, who could stay nine furlongs at top classes, and Sophisticat is a kin to major U.S. route players Harlington and Grand Reward. The eight-pound weight hike should be no problem as she's toted more than that overseas and her feathery impost last time out came over a stamina-demanding, soft turf course. Keeneland should be much firmer and less demanding Saturday.
ROSA GRACE was bounced around not once, but twice in the opening few hundred yards in the Grade 2 Lake Placid. Shuffled to last, she was then further compromised by a dawdling second quarter of the race, when a hopeless longshot leader was allowed to go from a :23.79 opening quarter to a syrupy :25.42 second quarter. She was unquestionably out-kicked by BACKSEAT RHYTYM on the square down the lane, but at least with her we know she can handle a road trip.
The Bottom Line: With live price horses SEFROUA, ROSA GRACE and MY PRINCESS JESS, I would attack this race using all three in the trifecta slots with the logical BACKSEAT RHYTHM, looking to score big if two out of three light the board. I'll put together these trifecta tickets: 2,7,11 with 2,7,11 with 8; 2,7,11 with 8 with 2,7,11; and 8 with 2,7,11 with 2,7,11. Each costs just $9, leaving plenty of room to go heavy on a 2,7,11 longshot-laden exacta box.
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