The nine-horse field assembled for the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Lane’s End is so deep in talent there is not one filly entered that isn’t capable of winning the race Oct. 12 at Keeneland. The field is led by Cambier Parc, one of only two horses in the field to have won at the highest level, having done so in August when victorious in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks Presented by The Jockey Club. The third-place finisher from the Del Mar Oaks, Lady Prancealot, won the Grade 3 Honeymoon Stakes prior to that and fits on all counts as well. Varenka and Regal Glory came together at the finish line in a dead head for the win in the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes this summer at Saratoga and are two more tremendously talented fillies. Princesa Carolina won the 1 5/16-mile Fifth Third Insurance Dueling Grounds Oaks last month on the European-style Kentucky Downs turf course, one race after coming up a couple of lengths short of the win in the Grade 3 Pucker Up Stakes, won by Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup entrant Café Americano. Then there is Queen Elizabeth II’s Magnetic Charm, who finished second in the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes Presented by the Japan Racing Association in her North American debut last month. It goes without saying — although I will say it anyway — it would be tremendous if Her Majesty the Queen’s horse won the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes. Then there’s Castle Lady, making her North American debut Saturday, the only other filly with a win at the highest level when victorious in the Group 1 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas) May 12 at Longchamp. Kelsey’s Cross rounds out the field, having finished third in three stakes races this spring and summer, including when third behind Cambier Parc in the Grade 3 Wonder Again Stakes in June.
I’m going to give Castle Lady top billing, admitting I may have fallen for a European import once again in spite of seeing my pick in last week’s Shadwell Turf Mile, Vintager, run poorly. Castle Lady won the first three starts of her career, with a strong 108 Equibase Speed Figure in the Prix de la Grotte Stakes at a mile in April and an even stronger performance when gamely winning by a nose in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches in May. That effort earned the filly a 117 figure, which is tops in the field, before a poorer fifth-of-nine finish in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Rested since that race, Castle Lady gets first-time Lasix and her regular jockey, Mickael Barzalona, will make the trip to ride her. Using STATS Race Lens, I ran a query on horses in graded stakes turf routes making their U.S. debut on Lasix in the past year and the results were eye-opening, with those 66 horses having won 10 times but paying nicely when they did win, resulting in a 32% profit on win bets on all 66 runners. As such, if Castle Lady rebounds back to the form shown in the spring, she has every chance to win this year’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes.
Lady Prancealot started her career in Europe, winning one of five starts. Her first start in the United States came in September 2018 and it was a big effort as she finished second in the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes and followed with another second in the Surfer Girl Stakes. Two races after a 14th-place finish in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Lady Prancealot won in February with a then-career-best 101 Equibase Speed Figure, before close-up third- and second-place finishes in stakes. Her breakout race of 2019 came in June when victorious in the Honeymoon Stakes with a 104 speed figure, which she repeated when third behind Cambier Parc in the Del Mar Oaks in August. In the Oaks, Lady Prancealot was about four positions and four lengths behind Cambier Parc when both began to pick up the tempo, but she could not outfinish the winner and was beaten by 1 ¾ lengths. The factor that could help Lady Prancealot reverse that finish with Cambier Parc in this race, and perhaps help her to win, is she draws the rail for the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup instead of the 10 post she had in the Oaks, whereas Cambier Parc had the rail for the Oaks and gets a post outside Lady Prancealot for this race.
Cambier Parc has won four of six turf races in her career, all but one a stakes race. She has a perfect 2-for-2 record at this 1 1/8-mile trip and was ridden to perfection in the Del Mar Oaks by John Velazquez, who was in the saddle for the first time and who rides her again in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. Cambier Parc earned a career-best 107 figure in the Oaks, which is the best last-race figure in the field. If no other horse improves markedly and she just repeats the effort, Cambier Parc can win.
Notes about the rest: Princesa Carolina earned a career-best 105 figure winning the Dueling Grounds Oaks last month, a four-point improvement over the 101 figure earned when second in the Pucker Up Stakes one month earlier. Café Americano won the Pucker Up with a career-best 105 figure and has been rested since, probably pointing to this race. She also won off a freshening in June, so she may run her best race to date in this situation. Varenka and Regal Glory both ran phenomenally well when finishing in a dead-heat in the Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 17, earning 100 speed figures that are slightly lower than the previously mentioned contenders. However, the two talented fillies have combined for eight wins in 15 races, mostly in stakes. The Queen’s Magnetic Charm was four lengths behind the winner of the Canadian Stakes in her North American debut last month, but gamely held that position by a nose with a 99 Equibase Speed Figure. Magnetic Charm could improve in her second race off the layoff while making her second start in North America. As I wrote at the start of this opening paragraph, there’s not a horse who cannot win and that includes Kelsey’s Cross as these connections — trainer Patrick Biancone and jockey Julien Leparoux — nearly pulled off the upset last Saturday with Diamond Oops in the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes. Although Kelsey’s Cross earned a career-best 95 speed figure in her most recent race, which would not be good enough to win if any of the other eight repeated their most recent figures, she is not without a chance as she has put in two significant six-furlong workouts coming into the race and her stablemate Diamond Oops had the same two workouts on his past performances before nearly winning the Shadwell Turf Mile last week.