December 17, 2018

Talent runs deep in 11-filly Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup

New Money Honey holds off Sistercharlie with Uni (obscured chestnut) rounding out the Chad Brown domination of the Belmont Oaks (NYRA/Coglianese Photography)

Trainers Chad Brown and Mark Casse are each taking two shots at Saturday’s $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland, but their fillies will need to bring their absolute best as the nine-furlong grass test runs far deeper than that imposing quartet

New Money Honey, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) for Brown last season, gamely captured the Belmont Oaks (G1) in July, but didn’t fare well when trying dirt in the Alabama (G1) last time. Brown’s other filly, Uni, ran third in the Belmont Oaks in her U.S. debut, finished second in the Lake Placid (G2), and most recently captured the Sands Point (G2) by a neck over La Coronel.

That rival, arguably the leading light over stablemate Dream Dancing, outran New Money Honey in the Appalachian (G3) over the Keeneland course in April, but has dropped three straight since taking the Edgewood (G3) on Kentucky Derby weekend. Meanwhile, Dream Dancing, whom La Coronel defeated in both the Appalachian and Edgewood, snapped a four-race losing skid August 19 with a dramatic rally in the Del Mar Oaks (G1), winning by a nose.

“It’s funny, all along when they’ve ever ran against each other, La Coronel has beat Dream Dancing,” Casse said. “Obviously Dream Dancing’s last race was very good. I think they’re pretty equal. Hopefully, if one of them comes with their best race, it will be good enough. It’s going to be a very tough race.”

Proctor’s Ledge, a descendant of the fine turf mare Drumtop, swept both of Saratoga’s leading grass races for sophomore fillies — the Lake George (G3) and Lake Placid — making up for earlier season losses to the Casse fillies.

“We freshened her up after Saratoga to focus on here,” trainer Brendan Walsh said. “I am very happy with her and now it is just a matter of getting her to the big day. It is going to be a big test for her.”

Grade 2 winner Daddys Lil Darling, notably a late scratch from the Epsom Oaks (G1) in June after she became spooked by thunder and lightning, earned her first turf win last month in the $200,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs for trainer Kenny McPeek. It was a facile win over 1 5/16 miles with the final margin being 4 1/4 lengths.

Following Dream Dancing into battle are the second- through fourth-place finishers from the Del Mar Oaks. Beau Recall just missed to that rival, while San Clemente (G2) heroine Madam Dancealot was only a neck farther back in third. Con Te Partiro, who captured the Sandringham H. at Royal Ascot for Wesley Ward, rallied for fourth.

International flavor will be provided by Group 1 winner Wuheida and German classic winner Unforgetable Filly. The Godolphin-owned Wuheida was second to Roly Poly in her season debut, the July 14 Falmouth (G1), but the Dubawi has settled for minor check in the German Oaks (G1), Matron (G1), and Prix de l’Opera (G1) since.

Unforgetable Filly, who landed the German 1000 Guineas (G2) at Dusseldorf in June, trailed against 12 rivals in the Sceptre (G3) at Doncaster last month, but along with Wuheida adds Lasix for her first North American spin.