Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth II field brimming with contenders

Alterite, ridden by John Velazquez, captured The Garden City Stakes ahead of Discreet Mar, ridden by Garrett Gomez, in September. It was the French filly's U.S. debut.
Alterite, ridden by John Velazquez, captured The Garden City Stakes ahead of Discreet Mar, ridden by Garrett Gomez, in September. It was the French filly's U.S. debut. AP

On either end of Keene-land's Barn 24 this week, a couple of contenders for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup are hoping to channel some past good fortune where the 11⁄8-mile turf test is concerned.

Though 9-to-5 morning line favorite Alterite will be making just her second stateside start, her trainer Chad Brown saddled last year's QEII winner, Dayatthespa.

A few stalls away from that camp, fellow entrant Caroline Thomas is a near spitting image of her dam, 2007 QEII winner Bit of Whimsy, with trainer Barclay Tagg hoping that resemblance gets even more striking post-race.

Any in the nine-horse field of 3-year-old fillies slated to start Saturday could legitimately claim the hardware.

The sixth Grade I race of Keeneland's Fall meeting has as much depth as any of the top-level contests featured, with Grade I-placed Concise as the only entrant missing at least a stakes win from her résumé.

The impression Alterite made during her U.S. debut in the Grade I Garden City Stakes last month merits her status as the pre-race favorite. In her first outing since coming over from France, the bay daughter of Literato sat fourth off tepid fractions before kicking clear under a hand ride from jockey John Velazquez over firm ground she was supposed to dislike.

"We had heard firm turf wasn't her preference so we were a little apprehensive when we saw the turf was as firm as it was that day," Brown said. "She just showed her true class. She did win fairly easy so we were very impressed with her."

Alterite is the latest distaffer owner Martin Schwartz has purchased which has come across the ocean to gain North American success with Brown. Brown conditioned Zagora and Stacelita — the last two winners, respectively, of the Eclipse Award for champion turf female — both of whom were owned by Schwartz and began their careers overseas.

"I'd say Alterite is maybe in the middle between the two camps in terms of her stamina and her size," Brown said. "Stacelita had a high cruising speed and ... (Alterite) has a good cruising speed and she's not totally void of turn of foot. But I'm not going to hold her to any specific racing style."

Tagg trained Bit of Whimsy to her QEII score six years ago but has yet to see that same consistent level of class from her daughter. Caroline Thomas got some luck when she was elevated to victory in the Grade II, 11⁄8-mile Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 18 but the daughter of Giant's Causeway didn't fire when she came home seventh behind Alterite in the 11⁄8-mile Garden City.

"She looks exactly like her mother but ... she hasn't quite shown me that much yet," Tagg said. "She comes from off the pace, and a good way off the pace, so she has to have some things go her way.

"I don't know what to make of (the Garden City). All I know is she is a pretty nice filly and in the mornings she does everything like a really good horse. She's bred to be a really good horse."

Caroline Thomas is one of two horses in the QEII field out of a QEII winner. Say, who is running back on a week's rest after finishing sixth in the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland last Saturday, is out of 2002 winner Riskaverse.

Grade III winner Leigh Court, a victor in each of her last three outings, has shown speed in her last six starts and could be prompted along by Richard Mandella-trainee Sarach, winner of the Grade II Honeymoon Handicap.

Trying to beat horses carrying the colors of Ken and Sarah Ramsey has caused many a foe angst this season, and the nation's leading owners have a dual attack for the QEII in Emotional Kitten and Kitten's Dumplings.

The two Kitten's Joy fillies finished third and fourth, respectively, last time out in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks but Kitten's Dumplings had won consecutive graded stakes prior to that in the Grade III Regret and Grade II Lake George.

Emotional Kitten will be ridden by Channing Hill, Ken Ramsey said Friday, replacing Garrett Gomez who is on an indefinite hiatus from riding.

"Emotional Kitten really had no excuse that day but Kitten's Dumplings was pinned on the rail," Ramsey said of the Del Mar Oaks. "Kitten's Dumplings, she's the pick of the litter."