LEXINGTON, Ky. — Chad Brown sent fewer horses to Keeneland this fall than he did in the spring, when he had six wins and five seconds from 16 starts. But his local string made quite an impact Wednesday when Rushing Fall romped in the Jessamine Stakes, and it could again wow the Kentucky bluebloods when New Money Honey and Uni represent the high-profile stable in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.
New Money Honey, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall and the Belmont Oaks in July, is widely regarded as the current leader in the niche of North American 3-year-old turf fillies. Whether she can continue to reign supreme is what will be decided when a field of 11 goes postward Saturday in the 34th running of the $500,000 QE II before perhaps the largest crowd of the 17-day fall meet.
Uni, as a last-out winner of the Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont Park, is one of the numerous viable threats to New Money Honey in the 1 1/8-mile QE II. Imported this spring from France, the British-bred chestnut has done well in all three U.S. starts, and it would be no major surprise if she topples her stablemate from the divisional throne.
The Brown duo was assigned the outside posts, with Uni and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. breaking from post 10 and New Money Honey (Javier Castellano) from post 11.
If not one of the Brown fillies, well, most of the other QE II fillies have shown themselves entirely capable of victory with a top effort. That group includes Proctor’s Ledge (post 2, Corey Lanerie), winner of the Lake George and Lake Placid at Saratoga this summer; Daddys Lil Darling (post 3, Robby Albarado), a record-setting winner of the Dueling Grounds Oaks in her last start; Wuheida (post 7, William Buick), a highly regarded Godolphin homebred; the talented Mark Casse pair of Dream Dancing (post 4, Julien Leparoux) and La Coronel (post 6, Jose Lezcano); and the respective 2-3 finishers behind Dream Dancing in the Del Mar Oaks, Beau Recall (post 9, Joe Talamo) and Madame Dancealot (post 8, Jamie Theriot).
Rounding out the QE II lineup are longshots Con Te Partiro (post 1, Mike Smith) and Unforgetable Filly (post 5, Josephine Gordon).
Kenny McPeek, trainer of Daddys Lil Darling, said the contentious nature of the QE II is to be expected.
“It’s a Grade 1, so it’s supposed to be as tough as it is,” he said. “None of these come easy. We’re in there because we think our filly belongs, as well as she handled the grass last out. It’ll take a huge effort to get the job done, whoever the winner is.”
One curious aspect to this particular renewal is the lack of obvious front-runners. Unless one of the European shippers, Wuheida or Unforgetable Filly, is sent early, the top candidates to set the early fractions are La Coronel and New Money Honey, with all the others having established themselves as midpack types or deep closers.
All starters carry 121 pounds. There are no stable couplings for wagering purposes.
The QE II, the sixth and last Grade 1 race of the 17-day Keeneland fall meet, is carded as the ninth of 10 Saturday races. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern, with the feature set for 5:30. The program also includes three allowances (races 5, 7, 8).
An on-track crowd exceeding 30,000 is likely, given the forecast of sunny skies and a high of 81.
New Money Honey, by Medaglia d’Oro
Last 3 Beyers: 85-88-87
Although her Beyers don’t necessarily speak to a clear-cut superiority, she has come up huge when it counted most for eFive Racing Thoroughbreds.
She returns from a noble but failed experiment on dirt (fifth in the Alabama) to her more preferred surface.
Uni, by More Than Ready
Last 3 Beyers: 91-93-85
She has made a stair-step progression in each of her starts on this continent, from a third in the Belmont Oaks to a second in the Lake Placid to her victory in the Sands Point.
Dream Dancing, by Tapit
Last 3 Beyers: 92-81-81
A highly productive 2017 campaign peaked with her last-gasp victory in the Aug. 19 Del Mar Oaks, which is not to say she can’t win a second straight Grade 1 here.
La Coronel, by Colonel John
Last 3 Beyers: 91-90-88
Casse was encouraged by her runner-up finish behind Uni in the Sands Point after he and his staff were puzzled by her nervous habits since returning from an overseas trip this summer.
Wuheida, by Dubawi
British-bred who gets first Lasix merits major respect after finishing fourth versus older horses in a Group 1 race on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe undercard just 13 days ago.
Proctor’s Ledge, by Ghostzapper
Last 3 Beyers: 95-92-85
This Brendan Walsh-trained filly has done little wrong all year, and her inside post should allow Lanerie to save ground until the final push begins.
Daddys Lil Darling, by Scat Daddy
Last 3 Beyers: 92-73-84
Runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks in May, this versatile filly lowered the track mark at Kentucky Downs last out in her third try over turf.