Shadwell Stable's homebred Alwajeeha stalked the pace under John Velazquez, took over coming out of the turn, and held off a host of 3-year-old fillies to win the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) (VIDEO) by 1 1/4 lengths Oct. 11 at Keeneland. The victory was especially sweet for Velazquez, who was involved in a bad spill just eight days before in Lexington.
Backseat Rhythm closed well to finish second, just in front of My Princess Jess. The final time for nine furlongs on the "firm" course was 1:48.09.
In a race without much speed, Alwajeeha sat comfortably behind pacesetter Storm Mesa, who posted fractions of :23.38, :47.17, and 1:11.61. My Baby Baby and Ariege, the post time favorite, were also close up early on, while Closeout made a strong bid on the far turn.
When they came off the turn, Storm Mesa could not keep pace with Alwajeeha, who took a 1 1/2-length advantage with a furlong to go. Closeout, My Princess Jess, and Backseat Rhythm, who was sixth at the top of the lane, all gave chase in the final sixteenth, but it was too late.
It was remarkable that Velazquez was even able to ride Alwajeeha a little more than a week after being hospitalized due to a serious spill at Keeneland. The veteran jockey was briefly knocked unconscious after his mount, Tap Dancing, fell during the seventh race Oct. 3. Velazquez ultimately suffered a concussion from the fall, but avoided serious injury.
“I’m very blessed that nothing really very serious happened to me," Velazquez said. "Thanks to Keeneland and everybody at the hospital. They treated me very well, and they really took good care of me.
"The filly did it great. We wanted to be close to the lead. After that, every time I asked her for a little more, she kept giving it to me. I was very, very impressed with her.”
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Alwajeeha entered the QE II off a sixth-place finish in the Garden City Handicap (gr. IT) Sept. 6 at Belmont, where she was five lengths back of Backseat Rhythm. The daughter of Dixieland Band had won just one of six starts this season, that coming four starts back in the Appalachian (gr. IIIT) April 16 at Keeneland.
Bred in Kentucky and out of the Seattle Slew mare Ridaa, Alwajeeha is now 3-3-0 from nine starts. She has earned $486,927.
“She got things her way today," said Rick Nichols, vice president of Shadwell. "Nice firm turf—she likes it that way. Johnny rode a great race. We figured since she won the (Appalachian) here in the spring that she’d matured enough to get the extra eighth of a mile."
Going off at odds of 11-1, Alwajeeha returned $25.20, $11.20, and $8.40. The exacta (4-8) with second choice Backseat Rhythm returned $174, while the trifecta (4-8-11) was worth $1,191.40.
Closeout was fourth, followed by Ariege, Magical Fantasy, Sefroua, Rosa Grace, Storm Mesa, Lickety Lemon, and My Baby Baby.