Head to Head: Picking the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup

Head to Head: Picking the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup
Photo: Rob Simmons/Eclipse Sportswire

Keeneland’s $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) is resplendent with classy 3-year-old fillies.

In recent years, this prestigious event was won by eventual champions Dayatthespa (2012) and Rushing Fall (2018).

The Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup is billed as race eight of ten on Saturday’s card, with a 4:44 p.m. post time.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast weed out the royals from the commoners.



1. Burning Ambition (6-1)

This daughter of Uncle Mo is 3/4-lengths shy of being undefeated in her career. She was reeled in late upon debut but has been best ever since. She most recently dominated the Indiana Grand Stakes, where she posted her highest speed figure and was wrapped up late. Saddled by Brad Cox, this will be the filly’s first attempt at 1 1/8-mile and in graded stakes company. Her early run style will help, but she will certainly need to take a step forward.

You would think a Brad Cox trainee with four of five-lifetime victories and who won her last four starts by almost ten lengths would be lower odds. In practically any other race, she would be. However, Burning Ambition has three strikes against her; She’s never tried two-turns, never faced graded competition, and her Brisnet Speed Ratings are among the lowest in the field. Pass.


2. Technical Analysis (IRE) (4-1)

Technical Analysis comes into this race off back-to-back to wins in the Lake George (G3) and the Lake Placid (G2). The Kingman (G.B.) filly has been brilliant at 1-mile to 1 1/16-mile, but her only foray at 1 1/8-mile resulted in a 6th place finish in which she had no kick at the end. You can never ignore a Chad Brown runner, however, so don’t leave her out of your analysis.


Technical Analysis has won four of six lifetime, and her performances in the Lake George (G3) and Lake Placid (G2) were commanding. However, her only off the board finish was in the nine-furlong Wonder Again (G3). In her defense, the Chad Brown trainee was four to five wide the entire way, and she ran out of oats.  


3. Shantisara (IRE) (7-2)

Another Chad Brown runner, Shantisara, has been quite good since hopping across the pond to the U.S. She finished a distant second in her U.S. debut after bobbling at the start, but came back to snag both the Pucker Up (G3) and the Jockey Club Oaks Invitational. She has proven that she can get 1 1/8-mile and beyond, making her quite dangerous.

Since shipping stateside, Shantisara has won two of three starts in the U.S., including the Jockey Club Oaks Invitational over Grade 1- placed Higher Truth. Flavien Prat has been in the money with three of five mounts in turf routes this meet, and Shantisara has tactical speed.


4. Empress Josephine (IRE) (3-1)

The reigning Irish One Thousand Guineas (G1) winner has been installed as the lukewarm favorite off big losses in the Coronation (G1) and Qatar Nassau (G1). She followed those two defeats with close losses in the Coolmore America Justify Matron (G1) and the First Lady (G1), which was her U.S. debut. Considering the company she’s kept, she should be well equipped to handle this field, plus she’s already gotten a feel for the Keeneland turf. She also has the highest turf speed in the field. Trainer Aidan O’Brien adds blinkers for the first time.


While it’s true that Empress Josephine won the Irish One Thousand Guineas (G1) by a head in May, it was the last time she visited the winner’s circle. The Aidan O’Brien trainee tuned up for this race in the one-mile First Lady (G1), which was a furlong too short. O’Brien has shipped a dozen horses to Keeneland over the last five years, earning one victory and six runner-up finishes. Exotics.


5. Nicest (IRE) (10-1)

Make it a family affair as Aidan O’Brien’s son Donnacha sends out his Group 1 placed, by virtue of the Irish Oaks, Nicest. The daughter of American Pharoah only has her debut victory to her name but has been pretty competitive otherwise. Distance is no question; however, she is going to have to want to get her picture taken.


As Ashley indicated, Nicest is camera-shy, owning one victory in six career starts. She was a bit rank in the Juddmonte Irish Oaks-G1 while being asked to track the pacesetter. In the stretch, the  Donnacha O’Brien trainee was hampered by being stuck on the rail directly behind the tiring pacesetter and had to check. Despite this, she maintained her position and finished third, beaten a half-length for second place. The cut back in distance should help with this group if Julien Leparoux can get her to settle. Exotics.


6. Queen Goddess (30-1)

Queen Goddess ships in from the West Coast off two straight wins, one in maiden company and the other in optional claiming company. Her speed figures are well below the best in this field, but trainer Mike McCarthy wins at a 25 percent clip with shippers. Pass.


The later-maturing Queen Goddess has improved in each start, and being by Empire Maker out of a Lemon Drop Kid daughter, she should love the extra distance. While she’s never faced a salty graded field like this one, the Mike McCarthy charge has every right to improve and couldn’t be training any better. Tyler Gaffalione is on fire this meet, with six in the money finishes from 14 starters. Live longshot. 


7. Lady Speightspeare (8-1)

Lady Speightspeare enters the QE II undefeated in three career starts. She won the Natalma (G1) in just her second start. A knee injury kept her away from the races for nearly a year, but she returned in as good form as ever, winning an optional claimer by 2-lengths. Her speed figures might not be quite up to par, but she’s bred to be good. Besides, after a year layoff, you’d need to shake the rust off, too.

I was so disappointed when Lady Speightspeare was scratched from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Her illustrious distaff line includes her dam Grade 2 winner Lady Shakespeare, that one’s full brother, Grade 1 winner Shakespeare, plus 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf heroine Perfect Shirl. Undefeated in a trio of starts, this Roger Attfield trainee scored in front-running style against optional claimers for her Queen Elizabeth II challenge. If Lady Speightspeare comes close to replicating her Natalma (G1) win last year, she’ll be formidable. Win contender.


8.  Flippant (15-1)

It took Flippant some time to put it all together, but once she finally did, she rattled off three straight victories. Her best speed figure is close to average for the field, but trainer Victoria Oliver is 0-for-49 in graded stakes races. Pass.


Flippant is one of those fillies who can’t get out of her own way. She found trouble in three of her last five starts. Vicki Oliver conditioned Flippant’s dam Frivolous to two Grade 2 wins, as well as Flippant’s half-sister, who is Grade 2 -placed. While it’s true that Oliver’s record in graded stakes leaves something to be desired, she and Rafael Bejarano have teamed up three times in turf routes at Keeneland in the last three years and have hit the board in two of them. Flippant’s off the pace running style is attractive in a race filled with speed. If you're playing the field, she’s worth a look as a longshot bomb to fill out the lower exotics.  


9. Cloudy Dawn (IRE) (15-1)

Cloudy Dawn has never been off the board for trainer William Haggas, including winning the Prix de Lieurey (G3) in her most recent outing. She has a tendency to get caught up in traffic, but the bigger detraction here is the fact that her only non-sprint race was at a mile. I’ll be looking elsewhere.


Cloudy Dawn has a lot to prove. She fought hard down the stretch to win the one-mile  Prix de Lieurey (G3) by a half-length over soft going. Her pedigree and conformation suggest that a mile is as far as she’ll want to go. Pass.


10. Closing Remarks (8-1)

Closing Remarks was most recently second in the Del Mar Oaks (G1), but she has not won a race since January despite competing in listed and state-bred stakes along with graded stakes. The daughter of Vronsky has been consistent, but consistency does not win the race here. Pass.

As Ashley noted, Closing Remarks hasn’t had her picture taken since January. However, she’s been stuck running in mile races when her running style clearly indicates that she wants more distance. During the running of the Del Mar Oaks (G1), the Carla Gaines trainee was stuck on the rail until mind-stretch. Closing Remarks had too much to do to catch the winner and finished second, beaten a length. If Umberto Rispoli can give her a good trip, Closing Remarks could have the final say.




Final Thoughts

Laurie: Speed rules in this race. Pacesetters and pressers account for seven of the last ten victories. Speed is the name of the game in this year’s edition, too. Six of the 10 entries like to race on or near the pace. However, Lady Speightspeare is a confirmed frontrunner while the rest are content to set the pace or press, however the situation demands.


Ashley: This is a good field in that I can make a case for several in here, and if the favorite goes off anywhere near her 3-1 morning line odds, bettors can call that a win, if she in fact, wins. However, Empress Josephine has not done a lot of that recently. There is not any blazing speed in this field, but I do think there are enough fillies that will go for the front that it will set up for someone coming from off the pace. So I am going to take a stab at one of Chad Brown’s fillies for the win.





3 Shantisara (7-2)

7 Lady Speightspeare (8-1)

4 Empress Josephine (3-1)

3 Shantisara (7-2)

7 Lady Speightspeare (8-1)

4 Empress Josephine (3-1)

2 Technical Analysis (4-1)

10 Closing Remarks (8-1)


Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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