The Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup is one of the premier turf races of the year for three-year-old fillies. The historic Keeneland race was last won by Aidan O’Brien’s Together. Contested since 1984, other notable winners include Perfect Sting and Ryafan. This year’s group includes eight contentious fillies.
BETTER LUCKY hit the big time with a splash when she won the Grade 2 Sands Point Stakes by a nose at Belmont Park. After that she was an unlucky second in the Grade 2 Lake George Stakes and didn’t bring much run while fifth in the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes. The extra distance might not be in her best interest. Shaun Bridgmahon rides for Thomas Albertrani.
TANNERY came running when last seen in the Grade 1 Garden City Stakes, but ran out of track while finishing 1 ¾ lengths back in third. She is a Group 3 winner in her native Ireland. The daughter of Arc winner Dylan Thomas should be much stronger in her second U.S. outing for Alan Goldberg and Elvis Trujillo. Don’t count her out of this.
Al Stall’s TREASURED UP has a bad habit of coming on too late. If new jockey Brian Hernandez can get her in the mix of things earlier, she stands a shot of winning. Her resume has late running finishes to be third in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes and fourth beaten only ¾ lengths when last seen in the Grade 3 Pucker Up. It will take a move forward for her to visit the winner’s circle, but that is within the realm of possibility.
CENTRE COURT might be the best horse in the race. The Rusty Arnold pupil is flexible enough to win from anywhere on the track and can win going various distances. Julien Leparoux is likely to have her closer to the front in this race. It will be her goal to hold off Stephanie’s Kitten, something she couldn’t do last out in the Lake Placid Stakes. Before that race she won the Lake George Stakes and Regret Stakes. I don’t think we have seen her best shot; until today.
STEPHANIE’S KITTEN is a Breeders’ Cup champion as she won last year’s Juvenile Fillies Turf. Since then, she owns victories in the ungraded Edgewood Stakes and the Grade 2 Lake George Stakes. It looks like the bay filly performs best when within a few lengths of the early pace, so look for John Velazquez to keep the pace setter in his cross hairs. Wayne Catalano is the trainer.
It looked like SOMALI LEMONADE had seen better days, but she surprised some of us by bringing a big late rally to be second in the Grade 1 Garden City Stakes. She will need help in the pace and traffic departments, but if she gets them she is as deadly as anyone else. However, she isn’t worth risking money at single digit odds. Michael Matz trains this one and Joe Rocco Jr. will pick up the mount.
Chad Brown is winning everything in sight and he brings SAMITAR to this race. The Martin Schwartz owned daughter of Rock of Gibraltar is a Group 1 winner in Ireland and was last seen winning the Garden City Stakes at Saratoga. She registered a head victory under Ramon Dominguez after racing in fourth much of the way. The field she beat wasn’t too impressive despite the Grade 1 status of that race. Approach her with caution because of the low price.
DAYATTHESPA has only lost twice in a seven race career that includes two Grade 3 wins, one of which came over this Keeneland turf course. Trained by Chad Brown, she figures to find herself on the lead in this spot. JJ Castellano will retain the mount. She has won at today’s distance, but that was against lesser foes. Is she ready to hold off this caliber of competition?
No surpises here; I’m going with CENTRE COURT to make amends and grab her first Grade 1 victory.