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$500,000 G1 Quen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland
Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Lead:

Keeneland's featured race during the second week of the Fall Meet will be Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old fillies. And, as the name suggests, there's plenty of international interest. A trio of imports from the United Kingdom will take on 7 domestic challengers in this 1-1/8 miles turf test. The QE2 goes as Race 8 on the card and will be the middle leg in the new Keeneland Turf Pick 3 wager, which Saturday matches Races 6, 8 & 10.

Field Depth:
EMPRESS JOSEPHINE is a Group 1 winner in Ireland and Group 1-placed in the US. LADY SPEIGHTSPEARE is a Grade 1 winner in Canada. TECHNICAL ANALYSIS is a Grade 2 winner stateside. SHANTISARA is a Grade 3 winner domestically and CLOUDY DAWN has won at the Group 3-level abroad. NICEST is Group 1-placed internationally and CLOSING REMARKS is Grade 1-placed in California. It's hard to argue that EMPRESS JOSEPHINE has not competed at the highest level in this field and has some class edge.

Early speed has been very good in this race historically, and it certainly was advantageous last week to be near the lead on the Keeneland green. We'll see if the turf continues to play that way as Saturday gets closer. LADY SPEIGHTSPEARE should be the pace controller here, with the inside pair of BURNING AMBITION and TECHNICAL ANALYSIS pressing. The addition of blinkers may put EMPRESS JOSEPHINE closer to the pace as well. This looks like an honest, but not overwhelming, pace and pretty fair all around.

Our Eyes:
EMPRESS JOSEPHINE's third against elders in the Grade 1 First Lady last Saturday at Keeneland was an excellent effort and she simply ran out of ground in that mile. The additional furlong will help her if she maintains form on the quick turn-around. Aidan O'Brien pulled this exact same move in 2011 when he won with Forever. You got a 9-2 price that day a decade ago following a runner-up in the First Lady. You have to respect her chances in what is an easier field this week than last and she's the one to beat.

Trainer Chad Brown has won this race 3 times in recent years, including 2018 and 2019, and will have TECHNICAL ANALYSIS and SHANTISARA with prime chances. TECHNICAL ANALYSIS appears to have a bit more early speed than SHANTISARA and that could give her the edge from a good post-2 draw. The former won a pair of stakes this summer at Saratoga, the latter took Arlington's Pucker Up and Belmont's new Jockey Club Oaks Invitational. The 9-furlong trip might tilt to SHANTISARA and you get ace turf pilot Flavien Prat. Separating them on form is razor-thin.

Among the international challengers is NICEST for trainer Donnaca O'Brien, son of Aidan. NICEST is an American Pharoah who should handle the US lawns and is cut out to be a pure router on form. She was third in the Irish Oaks over 1-1/2 miles. The question will be if she has the turn of foot for the 9 furlongs over a shorter stretch run than overseas. French Group 3 winner CLOUDY DAWN rounds out the imports and stretches out in distance on the flip-side. Hot-riding Brian Hernandez Jr. takes the call in an interesting pairing.

Del Mar alumni have had success in this race, winning in 2010, '13, '15 and '19. CLOSING REMARKS and QUEEN GODDESS will try to turn the trick this year. CLOSING REMARKS hit the board in 6 straight stakes out west, including a runner-up in the Del Mar Oaks. She appears the stronger of that pair by a solid margin.

Virginia Oaks heroine FLIPPANT carries a 3-race win streak, while Indiana Grand Stakes heroine BURNING AMBITION has won 4 straight for trainer Brad Cox, off to a stellar stakes start to the 2021 Keeneland Fall Meet. Both will be tested for class while in peak form.

Most Certain Exotics Contender:
Unless she regresses considerably, EMPRESS JOSEPHINE should be in the winning mix late over 1-1/8 miles.

Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
CLOSING REMARKS likely will be overlooked amongst the international and Chad Brown contingents. But the Del Mar-to-QE2 success here can't be overlooked at a price for the exotics.

Sending It In ($100 Bankroll):