On form alone, Ball Dancing looms a credible threat to add her name to the list of distinguished sophomore fillies who have won Keeneland's Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.
On the strength of her connections' history, Ball Dancing would go down as arguably the most fitting victor of the $500,000 11⁄8-mile turf race should she defeat her eight challengers Saturday.
While Ball Dancing's co-owner William S. Farish is the former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and has hosted Queen Elizabeth II in her visits to the Bluegrass, the owner of Lane's End Farm has never seen a horse carrying his colors win the race honoring Her Majesty.
Fresh off a victory in her stateside debut — the Grade II Sands Point Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 13 — Ball Dancing could not only get that elusive win for Farish but inspire a joyful winner's circle. Lane's End is the presenting sponsor of the QEII for the first time.
Co-owned by Farish and Steve Mooney, Ball Dancing made her first five career starts in France, winning a stakes race at Longchamp, before heading to North America and the barn of trainer Chad Brown.
Having impressed Brown in the mornings, Ball Dancing ran to her training in the 11⁄8-mile Sands Point when she rallied from next to last in the nine-horse field and surged up between horses in deep stretch to win by half a length.
"They are terrific to train for, Mr. Farish and Mr. Mooney," said Brown, who will also saddle Grade I winner Minorette in the QEII. "Being the sponsor of the race, he (Farish) has a leading contender for the race and I think it would be terrific if she could win. But beyond that, there is no extra pressure to have to win. We're just fortunate enough to be in position to win and I think she has a great shot."
Brown's success with horses that began their careers overseas includes champions Stacelita and Zagora and last year's QEII runner up, Alterite.
Minorette came to Brown last winter after making her first four starts in Ireland. Two starts after running third in an allowance test on the turf at Keeneland in April, the daughter of Smart Strike won the Grade I Belmont Oaks by 2 lengths over fellow QEII entrant Sea Queen.
"This filly has been a pleasure to have in the barn, she arrived to me in fantastic shape over the winter," Brown said of Minorette. "Since that point she's continued to impress and improve.
"She had an uncharacteristically poor performance in the Lake Placid Stakes (fourth on Aug. 16) but Saratoga probably wasn't her best venue she's trained at. Coming into this race, she's in top shape."
With rain already soaking the area Friday and more in the forecast overnight, the QEII contenders probably are going to have to deal with soft ground, a factor that could affect some key contenders.
Daring Dancer owns a win over the Keeneland course having taken the Grade III Appalachian Stakes in April. However, trainer Graham Motion said he would consider scratching the daughter of Empire Maker if the turf remains yielding, citing her fifth-place run in the Wonder Again Stakes and sixth-place finish in the Grade II Sands Point at Belmont, both of which came over soft ground.
"I'm honestly worried about it (the weather)," Motion said. "If it were good ground, I'd run her. If it were soft I would consider scratching her. I'm a little frustrated by her two Belmont races because she really hasn't done much else wrong.
"It also makes it a little confusing because you're like, is it Belmont or is it the fact it's been on the soft side both times she's run at Belmont? She obviously likes Keeneland."
Personal Diary, the tepid 7-2 morning-line favorite, won the Grade I Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 16 and hit the board in eight of 10 career starts, but has also primarily run on firm ground.
In an ideal world, Brown would prefer firm turf for his runners but says it's not a must.
"I would rather to run on firm, but I'm lucky that these two fillies I'm running are very versatile," Brown said. "They can handle both. But they're equally good if not better on firm. I would prefer firm but if the rain comes, we're still running and I'm still confident they both have a good chance to win the race."