The Breeders’ Cup Challenge moves to Britain for the first time this year as Royal Ascot hosts four ‘Win and You’re In’ contests across its five-day meeting, starting with Tuesday’s Queen Anne Stakes, which carries a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November.
The G1, named in honour of the monarch who founded Ascot racecourse, is the Royal meeting’s traditional curtain raiser, won in the past by subsequent Mile winners Barathea (1994) and the great Goldikova (2010).
Tuesday’s edition of the £600,000 ($762,000) contest is set to feature a large field of Europe’s leading older milers, headed by Mustashry, who beat several of his Queen Anne opponents in an improved performance last month when finally making his G1 breakthrough in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury under Jim Crowley.
A gelded son of Tamayuz, Sheikh Hamdan’s 6-year-old gelding ended last year finishing 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs behind his Sir Michael Stoute-trained stable companion Expert Eye, who is now retired to Juddmonte.
“I was thrilled with him in the Lockinge and his preparations have gone fine,” said Stoute. “He is impervious to ground conditions, which is very handy, and we are hopeful.”
Expert Eye won the Jersey Stakes over seven furlongs at last year’s Royal Ascot; Accidental Agent, surprise 33/1 winner of last year’s Queen Anne, did not take up his guaranteed spot at Churchill Downs. That 5-year-old, representing the unheralded pair of trainer Eve Johnson Houghton and jockey Charlie Bishop, is set to defend his title after a promising return to action in the Lockinge, where he closed late from a long way back to take third behind Mustashry, who had the benefit of a previous outing.
Also coming on from the Lockinge is popular five-time G1 winner Laurens (Karl Burke/PJ McDonald), a two-and-a-half-length runner-up at Newbury, but the weakish favourite in ante-post betting has been fifth-placed Le Brivido. A winner at Royal Ascot two seasons ago in the Jersey Stakes, he joined Aidan O’Brien from Andre Fabre’s stable for his 5-year-old campaign.
The most intriguing contender in an open-looking race full of intriguing contenders is Godolphin’s Barney Roy, who scored at Royal Ascot in the St James’s Palace Stakes two seasons ago before an abortive spell at stud. He is now with Charlie Appleby, having been trained by Richard Hannon before he went to Dalham Hall Stud.
A competitive field also includes French-trained Olmedo, winner of last year’s Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas), while Dermot Weld has booked Frankie Dettori for the Aga Khan’s Hazapour.
As part of the benefits from the Challenge series, Breeders’ Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside North America to compete in the two-day event at Santa Anita on November 1-2.
Among Queen Anne winners to have appeared in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in recent years are Toronado and Ribchester, who finished eighth and fifth respectively. The formidable Tepin won the Queen Anne for U.S.-based Mark Casse in 2016, having taken the Mile at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup the previous autumn.
Kalanisi, who landed the Queen Anne in 2000, went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf, while 2013 victor Declaration Of War was narrowly beaten after being switched to dirt in the BC Classic.