By Mike Watchmaker
With the major Breeders’ Cup preps behind us, the stakes pickings are slim Saturday. The only two graded stakes on the schedule are the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland and the Grade 3, $200,000 Knickerbocker at Belmont. Both races are scheduled to be run on turf, but both might be run on courses affected by rain.
Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup
There is a chance for heavy rain in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday. But I’m going to approach this Grade 1 event as though it will remain on turf, albeit on off going. Interestingly, all but Aurelia’s Belle in this nine-horse field have finished second or better on turf rated “good” or worse, so in this case, form might not play second fiddle to conditions.
I’m not especially taken with the five fillies in this race who have campaigned regularly in New York – Minorette, Ball Dancing, Sea Queen, Crown Queen, and Daring Dancer. They are all capable, but none is a standout in my eyes. You could get them together five times and wind up with five different results.
Personal Diary was good in winning the Del Mar Oaks last time out. However, she might not get as favorable a pace setup this time, and that career-best performance came on footing different than she is likely to encounter Saturday.
I’m going with the intriguing Speed Seeker (Heatseeker), who has shown plenty of ability after only three starts and might have the highest ceiling of anyone here.
After romping in her debut in June at Woodbine, Speed Seeker was spotted extremely aggressively in Saratoga’s Lake George Stakes in her second start. She also was very well bet at 5-1, considering that she was up against six far more-seasoned stakes-winning or stakes-placed opponents. Speed Seeker finished fifth but was going very well at the finish after being tentatively ridden between horses through the stretch, and she galloped out ahead of the field past the wire, including Daring Dancer.
Speed Seeker took a big step forward last time out – not surprising, considering how lightly raced she is – dominating the Ontario Colleen on footing labeled “good.” Speed Seeker, who showed positional speed in her first two starts, demonstrated versatility, coming from off the pace to score by almost five lengths. In the process, she crushed Daring Kathy, who finished in front of her in the Lake George, and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 that is tops in this field.