Ask IEAH Stables co-president Michael Iavarone about his filly Ariege and he'll tell you he honestly believes there isn't a surface she can't master.
In two races over synthetic tracks, Ariege notched two graded stakes wins including a victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks.
And with her powerful turn of foot, the daughter of Doneraile Court could run just as well if she gets to test the dirt, Iavarone is convinced.
On Saturday, Ariege will attempt to show just how formidable she can be on grass when she faces a field of 10 other 3-year-old fillies in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes over 11⁄8 miles at Keeneland.
After back-to-back triumphs in the Santa Anita Oaks and the Grade II Stonerside Beaumont at Keeneland on April 10, Ariege – — who made her first three career starts in Europe — was slated to be one of the top contenders in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks this spring only to miss the race with a chip in one of her ankles.
After the dark bay filly came back from a 90-day hiatus, her connections decided to test their belief that she would ultimately be better on the grass, despite the fact she only had one win on the surface in five tries.
So far, they haven't had to question their faith much. Ariege scored by 21/4 lengths in the one-mile Madame Jumel Stakes on the turf at Saratoga on Aug. 9 and was third, beaten just three-quarters of a length, by Backseat Rhythm in the Grade I Garden City Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 6.
"(Former trainer) Frank Lyons brought her to my attention when she was in Ireland, and we figured if she came to the States and got on firmer ground she would really improve," Iavarone said. "She just has a tremendous turn of foot. This race would give her a Grade I win on synthetic and turf, which would be pretty amazing, and we'd like to try her on the dirt at some point, too.
"If she can translate onto dirt as well as she has the other two, you'd have something really special."
Trained by Bobby Frankel, Ariege will have to uncork a special effort if she hopes to overcome the deep field on Saturday.
In addition to her victory in the Garden City Stakes, which came over a yielding turf, Backseat Rhythm dismissed fellow QEII challenger Rosa Grace by 31/4 lengths in the Grade II Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 15 and is 2-for-3 lifetime at the 11⁄8-mile distance.
"It's pretty much against horses she's run against and beat before," trainer Patrick Reynolds said of the QEII field. "But it's not like we're shooting tops; it's a Grade 1, and they've all got a chance. I wouldn't trade mine with anybody."
After winning only once in her first eight starts, Magical Fantasy broke through in a huge way last time out, taking the Grade I Del Mar Oaks over a firm turf for trainer Patrick Gallagher.
Trainer Barclay Tagg, who won the QEII last year with Bit of Whimsy, has another promising contender this season in My Princess Jess, winner of the Grade II Lake George Stakes at Saratoga, who is coming off a fourth-place run in the Garden City Stakes.
"I am not sure about any distance limitations with her," Tagg said of the daughter of Stormy Atlantic. "If the race sets up well, she should be right there."