Grade 1 winners Samitar and Stephanie's Kitten headline a field of eight sophomore fillies entered for Saturday's 29th running of the Grade 1, $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland.
Samitar enters the QEII off a victory as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont Park on September 15. Heroine of the Group 1 Irish One Thousand Guineas during the spring, Samitar is now trained by Chad Brown and will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez in Saturday's 1 1/8-mile turf contest.
The English-bred daughter of Rock of Gibraltar just arrived Tuesday following a whirlwind trip for Sean Ryan, Keeneland assistant to New York-based Brown
Ryan accompanied Balance the Books, winner of Sunday's Grade 3 Bourbon, on his flight from Blue Grass Airport, which left at 12:45 p.m. (EDT), for Islip Airport on Long Island. When the plane landed, a van containing Brown's QEII Challenge Cup entrants -- Samitar and Dayatthespa -- was waiting for a flight to Louisville and Ryan was headed back to Kentucky. The Brown crew then took a van to Keeneland, arriving about 8:45 p.m.
"I'm pretty tired," said Ryan, whose father is noted bloodstock agent Mike Ryan. "It was a very busy day."
Dayatthespa drew the far outside post in the QEII, one stall beside Samitar. The City Zip miss enters the QEII off four consecutive victories, including the Grade 3 Appalachian over the course in April and the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride going nine furlongs at Gulfstream in mid-March. Dayatthespa wasn't seen in competition for four months following the Appalachian, just returning with a 1 1/4-length victory in the Riskaverse at Saratoga on August 31.
Stephanie's Kitten also brings Keeneland experience into the QEII, but that came on the main Polytrack when the daughter of Kitten's Joy captured the Grade 1 Alcibiades last fall. She followed that with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and opened her sophomore season back on Keeneland's synthetic when finishing third in the Grade 1 Ashland in April.
The Wayne Catalano trainee has since added to her resume grass wins in the Edgewood at Churchill Downs and Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga. John Velazquez has the return mount on Stephanie's Kitten.
Three other U.S. graded winners as well as Tannery, a Group 3 star in Europe, are also in the field. One of those, Better Lucky, arrived Tuesday night from trainer Tom Albertrani's barn. Assistant Josh Flores is overseeing the bay daughter of Ghostzapper at Keeneland and took the filly for a stroll around the shedrow at Barn 23 on Wednesday.
Albertrani moved Better Lucky to the turf three starts back following a 5 1/4-length romp in the mud at Belmont Park. She responded with a nose score in the Grade 2 Sands Point at Big Sandy before just missing by a neck in the Grade 2 Lake George to the re-opposing Centre Court.
"After she won on the mud, he thought if she ran well on the mud that she might like the grass," Flores explained.
Better Lucky is exiting a fifth-place run, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths, in the Lake Placid.
"She had a wide trip that day and maybe she ran back too quick (three weeks) from the Lake George," Flores remarked. "She runs better fresh."
Lake George scorer Centre Court broke her maiden at Churchill Downs in mid-May and immediately stepped up to score in her stakes bow, the Grade 3 Regret, under the Twin Spires one month later. The Rusty Arnold-trained Smart Strike filly will enter the QEII off a half-length second in the Lake Placid in August.
Somali Lemonade, winner of the last year's Grade 3 Jessamine over the Keeneland green, will be looking to turn the tables on Samitar, Stephanie's Kitten and Centre Court when she starts under Joe Rocco Jr. in Saturday's race. The Lemon Drop Kid miss finished behind those fillies in her last three races, with her head loss in the Garden City coming most recently.
Tannery will try to emulate Together in the QEII after that filly won last year's edition to become only the second Irish-bred in the 28-year history of the race to triumph, joining Danish in 1994.
Tannery arrived at Keeneland Tuesday night after a day that began with a trip to New York from Monmouth Park for a flight to Louisville and then a van ride to Lexington. The daughter of Dylan Thomas, a private purchase this summer by Richard Santulli after running her first 10 races in Europe, will be making her second U.S. start in the QEII.
"We had watched videos of her races and she was pretty tenacious," trainer Alan Goldberg said from Monmouth Park. "She would give you all she had."
A Group 3 winner at the Curragh in July, Tannery arrived in Goldberg's barn a week before her stateside bow in the Garden City.
"I don't think she was crazy about the turf that day," Goldberg said of the filly's third-place finish behind Samitar and Somali Lemonade. "The ground was very hard that day."
Told of a good chance of showers early Friday, Goldberg said, "That would be great."
Overseeing Tannery at Keeneland is Sharon Huston, who was aboard the filly for a one-mile gallop over the training track on Wednesday.
"She really liked that track," Huston said after Tannery returned to Barn 40. "She acts like she has been here all her life."
Regret third-placer Treasured Up completes the QEII field, entering the contest off a close fourth-place run in the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington Park on September 15.