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Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Contenders & Picks

by Dustin Fabian

October 11, 2018


Grade 1 fillies are on display Saturday at Keeneland, as a field of eight squares off in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.  The field is led by a juggernaut – Rushing Fall – who goes out for the potent Chad Brown barn?  Is she a lock in the QEII?  Or is an upset brewing? Here’s my take.

Bet the Queen Elizabeth II as Race 9 at Keeneland on Saturday, with post time of 5:30PM ET. 

1. Nyaleti (IRE) – Johnston/Lanerie
Is in strong form, having finished a close-up 5th most recently in the G2 Celebration Mile at Goodwood on August 25.  Previously she ran 6th at 38/1 in Arlington’s Beverly D. Stakes, beaten just 2 3/4-lengths by Sistercharlie and Fourstar Crook.    She won the German 1,000 Guineas in May and was beaten just a head in the G2 Rockfel Stakes last fall at Newmarket.  She seems to appreciate some give in the ground so the course in Kentucky could be right up her alley.  Switches to a jockey, Corey Lanerie, who knows his way to the Keeneland winner’s circle.

2. Princess Warrior – McPeek/Hernandez
Has danced plenty of high-level dances, including the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and G1 Darley Alcibiades last fall and the G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks earlier this year.  Unfortunately, she’s 0-for-6 in graded races and she just doesn’t seem to stack up well against these.  Easy to prefer others.

3. Fatale Bere (FR) – Powell/Desormeaux
She’s 5-for-10 in her career, including 3-for-7 since coming to the States last fall.  The biggest score came last out in the G1 Del Mar Oaks, a race she won by a neck on August 18 at odds of 7/1.  Desormeaux has been aboard for two of her wins.  Only question is whether she’ll get a pace to run at as she’s somewhat dependent.  Additionally, this is her first start away from those quick California turf courses at Santa Anita and Del Mar.  Hard to know what to expect.

4. Daddy Is a Legend – Weaver/Albarado
She’s raced exclusively against graded stakes horses in her last six starts, the high water mark coming with a pair of G3 victories in the Lake George at Saratoga and the Jimmy Durante at Del Mar.  She won over this course last October.  Robby Albarado rides for the first time and selfishly, you’d have preferred her normal rider (Manny Franco) make the trip out to ride.  That would instill more confidence.  Hard to back her otherwise.

5. Mission Impassible (IRE) – Rouget/Geroux
French-based filly gets a French-bred jockey, Florent Geroux, to ride.  And Geroux knows how to ride this course, so that’s a plus.  She won a G2 race at Chantilly in June but has been on the shelf since July 29.  That’s a decent amount of time between races, but you have to imagine the connections wouldn’t have shipped to the States for a G1 if she wasn’t in peak shape.  She’s kept good company and continues to perform, so you have to respect her.

6. Secret Message – Motion/Vargas
Beat a relatively weak field in the G3 Pucker Up on Arlington Million Day at Arlington Park and took advantage of a pedestrian pace to almost win the G2 Sands Point at Belmont on September 15.  Those two races were a huge step up from her prior bests, and you just have to wonder if her improved form will continue against this caliber.  Again worth noting that the jocks that know her best (Velazquez, Irad Ortiz) aren’t in town to ride.

7. Capla Temptress (IRE) – Mott/Leparoux
Was a highly regarded juvenile filly off her win in Woodbine’s G1 Natalma last fall, but she just hasn’t put it together since.  Hard to be impressed by any of her three US races this year, the best of which came when she was handled easily by Rushing Fall in the G2 Lake Placid (2nd, beaten 2 3/4-lengths).  She couldn’t stay last out in the G2 Sands Point, but maybe the yielding turf hurt her that day?  Like several others, she’s a pace-dependent entrant in a race void of it.  Hard to endorse.

8. Rushing Fall – Brown/Castellano
Her 2018 campaign has been a bit of a head-scratcher as the connections started her in a G2 and G3 off a season in which she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in fine fettle.  Overcame a layoff to win the G2 Lake Placid at Saratoga, but you have to wonder where she was for races like the Belmont Oaks.  Not a ton of G1s in her division but a bit confusing that they missed them all.  She’s a perfect 2-for-2 at Keeneland and obviously the Chad Brown/Javier Castellano factor reign supreme.  She’ll be a short number on the toteboard (3/5, anyone?) and probably wins like it.

How to Bet

It’s hard to see past Rushing Fall, who just seems to check all of the boxes.  Grade 1 winner? Check. Tactical speed? Check. Loves Keeneland? Check. Right jockey/trainer? Check and check.  There just isn’t much she can’t do.

As for me, I’ll accept that she’s going to win and play the two European entrants – Nyaleti and Mission Impassible – underneath her in Exactas.  Maybe I can get lucky and catch one of them at a price.  Capla Temptress and Fatale Bere are nice fillies, but you just have to wonder where they’ll get a pace to run into.