American beauty: Champion Tepin reigns in Queen Anne Stakes

Tepin, with Julien Leparoux aboard (right), held off Belardo and James Doyle to win the Queen Anne Stakes during opening day of the Royal Ascot meeting in Berkshire, England, on Tuesday.
Tepin, with Julien Leparoux aboard (right), held off Belardo and James Doyle to win the Queen Anne Stakes during opening day of the Royal Ascot meeting in Berkshire, England, on Tuesday. AP

The queen arrived on the opening day of the Royal Ascot meeting, resplendent in her form and leaving no doubt who is the most regal of her class.

Tepin, the reigning champion turf female in North America, took her talents to England for one of horse racing’s most prestigious meetings and departed with her name firmly planted alongside some of the great grass performers in recent decades. Under masterful handling from jockey Julien Leparoux, the 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein rated patiently off the early going before striking the front a half-furlong from the finish en route to a half-length victory in the Group I Queen Anne Stakes.

Owned by Robert Masterson, Tepin joins Undrafted (2015 Diamond Jubilee) as the only U.S.-based horses to score Group I success at Royal Ascot.

Even with the six-race win streak she brought into the Queen Anne, there were concerns about how the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile heroine would handle Ascot’s demanding straight-mile course, if the soft ground might affect her blazing kick and whether she would feel ill effects from not being able to race on the anti-bleeder medication Lasix and without her usual equine nasal strip.

Great horses make circumstances moot, and the Queen Anne proved another trademark outing for the undisputed queen of the turf. In a race that counts such greats as Goldikova and Frankel as past victors, Tepin proved a most worthy addition to the list of all-timers.

“There were a lot of things stacked against her today, but in the end her greatness prevailed,” trainer Mark Casse said. “A lot of people in the United States will be delighted with this result. I have to tip my hat to Robert Masterson; he was a true sportsman who encouraged us to come.

“We trained her without Lasix and all the things she was accustomed to and we felt that she handled that fine. She thought she was over here on vacation and then before the race she realized that she had to work. She will be fine, go back and relax. She is just a remarkable horse. Julien hit her a couple of times, which he usually doesn’t have to, so I was just waiting for the wire to come.”

In her 19 previous career starts, Tepin had won over synthetic and dirt surfaces, over firm and soft turf — the latter coming when she zipped to a 7-length win in the Grade I First Lady Stakes during a rain-soaked day at Keeneland last October.

Fittingly, the drenched Ascot course proved no problem for the bay mare. Under right-handed urging from Leparoux, Tepin held off runner-up Belardo with Lightning Spear crossing the line third in the field of 13.

“The biggest thing we were worried about was the ground,” Masterson said. “She had won on the soft ground before. But she had never been on the straight track and never been up the hill. It’s a lot of things to overcome for the first time. She just did it. She’s just one of those professionals who just did it.”

Added Leparoux, “She had to work for it today. The last 100 meters was a long way to go and I am glad we got it done. She is a champion and proved it today.”

Final time for the 1-mile race was 1:43.98.

Bred by Machmer Hall, Tepin previously defeated males in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile and came into the Queen Anne having won each of her four starts in 2016, including the Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland. In addition to earning her fifth Grade/Group I triumph, she improves her career record to 12 wins from 20 starts with $3,563,838 in earnings

A title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Mile this November has been tabbed the year-end goal. Where Tepin starts next is yet to be determined, though she is assured a hero’s welcome upon her return stateside.

“You have to bring the right horse. We brought the right horse,” assistant trainer Norman Casse said. “She takes everything in her stride and as soon as she got off the plane, we knew she would do all right.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl