10/14/2010 2:33PM

All of Evening Jewel's focus is on winning QE II Cup

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BENOIT PHOTO
Trainer Jim Cassidy says Evening Jewel is under consideration for the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic and the BC Filly and Mare Sprint.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – All of the prep races for the 2010 Breeders’ Cup are in the books. Well, almost all. The timing of the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, set for Saturday at Keeneland, might be cutting it a bit close, but if Evening Jewel runs like she has all year long, she will still be able to meet up in Louisville with all the other Breeders’ Cup prospects who had their final preps in the last few weeks.

Trainer Jim Cassidy tentatively has targeted the BC Filly and Mare Sprint or the BC Ladies’ Classic, both to be run Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, as the year-end goal for Evening Jewel, an extraordinarily consistent filly who figures as the favorite Saturday in the 27th running of the Grade 1, $400,000 QE II.

“If she keeps running the way she has, we should wind up there in Louisville,” Cassidy said earlier this week.

Evening Jewel has turned in seven bang-up efforts in as many tries this year, including wins in the Ashland and Del Mar Oaks and a wicked nose defeat in the Kentucky Oaks. She has earned more than $775,000 this year for Marilyn Braly, who now is the filly’s sole owner following the death last month of her husband, Tom.

“We don’t have to decide about the Breeders’ Cup right now,” said Cassidy. “I’m just focused on this race. It’s tough enough as it is.”

Indeed, the QE II came up extremely competitive. Check the Label, the likely second choice, has a record very similar to that of Evening Jewel, as she enters the 1 1/8-mile turf race with a four-race win streak – all in graded turf stakes. In addition, the field of eight 3-year-old fillies includes Zagora, Harmonious, Perfect Shirl, and Dade Babe, all of them group or graded winners.

Check the Label is trained by Graham Motion, who took the 2003 QE II with Film Maker, a winner by maybe an inch over Maiden Tower in a frantic finish.

“That was my first Grade 1 win, and I still remember it vividly,” said Motion. “This is such a prestigious race, and obviously I’d love to win it again.”

Ramon Dominguez will be aboard Check the Label when she breaks from post 4, just to the outside of Evening Jewel and Victor Espinoza.

Zagora will be making her stateside debut Saturday and is the unknown of the group, although her owner, Martin Schwartz, long has been known for importing top-class runners from overseas. Zagora, a French-bred with two Group 3 triumphs under the care of Jean-Claude Rouget, will be trained by Chad Brown after the QE II.

Harmonious was a hard-charging second to her California colleague, Evening Jewel, in the Aug. 21 Del Mar Oaks, the last race for both. Trained by John Shirreffs of Zenyatta fame, Harmonious wouldn’t seem to have to improve too dramatically to turn the tables in what would amount to a minor upset.

Perfect Shirl, a Canadian invader trained by Roger Attfield, reeled off three straight victories, including a mild upset in the Grade 2 Lake Placid early in the Saratoga meet, before turning in a creditable third behind Evening Jewel and Harmonious in the Del Mar Oaks.

Dade Babe is the speed of the group, having stolen off to win the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington Park in her last out. Claimed for $25,000 in March after having run for as little as $15,000, the Florida-bred Dade Babe is a rags-to-riches story that would bear repeating if she somehow holds off all these top fillies Saturday.

Snow Top Mountain and La Cloche round out the QE II field.

The QE II, first run in 1984, is the last Grade 1 of the Keeneland fall meet. It goes as the ninth of 10 races and will be a featured event on TVG. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern, with the QE II going at 5:23.

A large ontrack crowd is expected, although many fans will be gone by the time the QE II is run in time to make the 6 p.m. kickoff for the University of Kentucky football game at nearby Commonwealth Stadium.

Sunny skies and a high of 69 are in the forecast.