John Oxley, a longtime patron of Keeneland racing, has been a high-goal polo player, a Kentucky Derby winner (Monarchos, 2001), a Tulsa oilman and part-time resident of Midway, where, like other horsemen in that folksy burg, he’ll stroll into the Corner Grocery to buy a Daily Racing Form.
Until his La Coronel won the 34th running of the $500,000, Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Saturday, defeating Daddys Lil Darling by half a length with Madam Dancealot third, Oxley felt he had one more box to check. He needed to catch up to his wife, who had already won a race this Fall Meet.
Debby Oxley had won the Darley Alcibiades Stakes on Oct. 6 with Heavenly Love. Oxley said tongue-in-cheek that his thought then was, “If only I could do that.”
No worries. John Oxley started two fillies in the Queen Elizabeth (Dream Dancing finished seventh), and it was La Coronel who checked the box with a $12.20 winning payoff. The daughter of Colonel John (out of the mare Listen) led all the way to win the 1 1/8-mile turf race under jockey Jose Lezcano for trainer Mark Casse. Despite Daddys Lil Darling gaining in the stretch, the race inaugurated by Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth on her 1983 Keeneland visit resulted in a homegrown outcome for 3-year-old fillies currently racing in the United States.
Uni, of the European challengers, finished closest to the American-based fillies by running fourth, 1 1/2 lengths behind Madam Dancealot. Uni has been in the United States four months after arriving from France. Unforgetable Filly, who had raced in England and Germany, ran last in the field of 10. Wuheida, who had raced in France, Ireland, and Germany for Godolphin Racing, was scratched.
One indicator La Coronel would race well for Oxley in the Queen Elizabeth was her Keeneland history: she had won the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes over this turf course last April. Oxley said that clue to the filly’s performance on Saturday would have given him some confidence La Coronel would race well. But you can never be overly confident facing any horse race.
Nonetheless La Coronel’s position on the lead in the first quarter-mile allowed her to run the race according to her terms. The moderately slow fractions she set might have hurt the chances of her stablemate.
“What worked for La Coronel probably hurt Dream Dancing, the track being a little bit slow,” said David Carroll, representing trainer Casse. Carroll said he spoke after the race with Dream Dancing’s rider, Julien Leparoux, and learned from the jockey that after La Coronel kicked in soon after the start, his filly could not catch up. Leparoux told Carroll the slow fractions might have hurt Dream Dancing.
While Dream Dancing struggled near the back of the field, La Coronel was just cruising in front for Lezcano, setting fractions of 23.81, 48.60, 1:13.47, 1:36.97 and 1:48.99 over a track rated firm.
Robby Albarado, who rode Daddys Lil Darling for trainer Ken McPeek, also found the moderately slow fractions problematic. “The only speed horse got out front and was just cantering on the lead,” Albarado said. “In hindsight, maybe we should have been closer to put some pressure on the horse in front. My horse was close and she tried the whole way.”
Jockey Josephine Gordon was making her U. S. debut on Unforgetable Filly and said she found the nature of Keeneland’s sand-based turf course troublesome. “Though they’re calling it firm,” she said, “it’s not firm for what she’d be used to back in the UK. It was far too soft for her.”
Even as excuses were offered up for the nine fillies behind La Coronel, the winner had cruised along in front as though recalling the way from her winning race here last spring.
“Her ears were going back and forth which told me she was very comfortable with what she was doing,” Carroll said. “It was a fantastic race. Jose rode her beautifully.”
Keeneland Fall Meet
When: Through Oct. 28 (no racing Mondays and Tuesdays)
First post: 1:05 p.m. each racing day