10/17/2013 12:33PM

Ascot: Dawn Approach has work cut out in Queen Elizabeth II Stakes

Edward Whitaker
Dawn Approach will have to handle a soft course and some top-class competition in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday.

The idea motivating the creation of British Champions Day at Ascot was to bring together the best horses in Europe for one last late-season day of championship-level racing, and in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, that idea has largely come to fruition.

The QE II, a Group 1 mile with a purse of about $1,614,700, drew a final field of 12, among them several of the best milers in the world. The antepost betting favorite is Dawn Approach, but Maxios, Soft Falling Rain, Olympic Glory, and Gordon Lord Byron all are qualified to have an impact.

The QE II, with post time scheduled for 10:30 Eastern, is the fourth of six stakes on Champions Day and boasts a slightly deeper field than the card’s richest race, the Group 1 Champion, which is headed by Cirrus des Aigles, Farhh, and Ruler of the World. The condition of the Ascot course will play a significant role: The turf was labeled soft as of Thursday, and with more showers forecast could be downgraded to heavy in spots.

A laboring course does not favor two of the top QE II contenders, Dawn Approach and Soft Falling Rain, though the excellent Dawn Approach is not hapless on soft ground. A winner in eight of his 11 starts, all for trainer Jim Bolger, Dawn Approach won two important Group 1 miles for 3-year-olds earlier this year, the English 1000 Guineas and the St. James’s Palace Stakes. He failed to settle and could not stay the 1 1/2 miles of the Epsom Derby, finishing 12th, and came out of a subpar fifth-place finish last out in the Aug. 11 Prix Jacques Le Marois with an illness. But Bolger has said Dawn Approach is right again, and he will have assistance from his regular pacemaker, Leitir Mor.

Contrary to his name, Soft Falling Rain, a South African-bred trained by Mike de Kock, would prefer dry conditions and firmer going. Soft Falling Rain has won eight of his nine career starts and was impressive last out in the Joel Stakes, but soft-to-heavy ground probably blunts his brilliance.

Course conditions will suit the race’s other major 3-year-old, Olympic Glory, who races with blinkers added Saturday after running below his best form Sept. 15 when second to return rival Maxios in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp. At his best, the Richard Hannon-trained Olympic Glory was beaten a nose (and might have won with better luck) by top-class Moonlight Cloud in the Marois, and his lone Ascot start produced a close second behind Dawn Approach last year.

The QE II 3-year-olds get a three-pound weight break from the race’s older males, among which Maxios has the best win chance. The France-based 5-year-old has excellent form on soft turf, including blowout victories this season over Olympic Glory and the Breeders’ Cup Classic-bound Planteur. With wet conditions continuing to prevail, he has been well backed in the betting markets this week, and probably for good reason.

Gordon Lord Byron also performs well on wet going and ran into a very sharp winner in Moonlight Cloud when second two weekends ago in the Prix de la Foret, but Gordon Lord Byron’s best distance range appears to be from six to seven furlongs, and he might come under heavy pressure late in what should be a very interesting edition of the QE II.