January 28, 2023

McKulick faces six in Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup

MucKulick wins the Belmont Oaks (Photo by Chelsea Durand/Coglianese Photos)

McKulick will be favored to give trainer Chad Brown a record-breaking fifth victory in the $600,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) for three-year-old fillies at Keeneland on Saturday.

A daughter of Frankel, McKulick has won or placed in all seven career starts, with stakes victories this term in the Belmont Oaks (G1) and Jockey Club Oaks (G3). McKulick’s attempt at sweeping the Turf Tiara for three-year-old fillies in New York was prevented by With the Moonlight, who avenged her loss to McKulick in the Belmont Oaks by taking the Saratoga Oaks (G3).

McKulick finished second two previous tries outside New York, but both occurred over Churchill Downs’ newly-installed grass course last spring in the Edgewood (G2) and Regret (G3).

Brown, who snapped a three-way tie between himself, John Veitch, and Jimmy Toner for most Challenge Cup wins when saddling Shantisara to victory last year, has also entered the stakes-winning Gina Romantica, runner-up in the Pebbles (G3) last out.

Bellabel, based in California with Phil D’Amato, has won two of three since her importation from Ireland, those being the San Clemente (G2) at Del Mar and the Blue Norther S. at Santa Anita. Last time, Bellabel finished a distant second to the classy Spendarella in the Del Mar Oaks (G1).

New Year’s Eve, who beat McKulick in the Edgewood in May, subsequently finished behind that rival in the Belmont Oaks and Saratoga Oaks, and last time finished a flattened-out fourth over a longer distance in the Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs.

Paris Peacock, based in Ireland with Jessica Harrington, is the only filly in the field making her U.S. debut. She enters off back-to-back stakes wins at Gowran Park, including the Denny Cordell (G3). She races for Craig Bernick’s Glen Hill Farm.

Also in the lineup is California Angel, who captured the Jessamine (G2) at Keeneland last year but who is winless in five interim starts. She returned last month to finish third in the Dueling Grounds Oaks following a spell dating to March.

This is the first renewal of the Challenge Cup since the death of Her Majesty the Queen last month. The race was inaugurated in 1984 with the Queen in attendance.