10/18/2012 4:02PM

Ascot: Excelebration may use Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as springboard to Breeders' Cup


Frankel starts in the Champion Stakes on Saturday at England, but the imprint of his career presses hard into the second-best race on Ascot’s card, the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Frankel won the QE II last year by four lengths, leaving in his wake runner-up Excelebration. There’s not a lot of room to pity Excelebration, a winner in 7 of his 13 starts with a millionaire’s bankroll. But had Frankel never come into this world, Excelebration would be lauded as the best miler of his generation, and his appearance in Saturday’s QE II would rate as more than a noteworthy sideshow to the main event, Frankel’s Champion Stakes.

Frankel won five of the six races Excelebration has lost, but somehow Excelebration did not lose heart after all the thrashings. After losing by five lengths to Frankel in the JT Lockinge Stakes and by 11 in the Queen Anne earlier this year, Excelebration gave a reminder of his own ample talent by winning the Group 1 Jacques Le Marois at Deauville by 1 1/2 lengths over Cityscape.

That performance, and his overall body of work, makes Excelebration a strong favorite to win the QE II, his first start in more than two months. The break between races should have Excelebration a fresh horse if, as expected, his connections attempt a QE II-Breeders’ Cup Mile double this fall.

Excelebration has never raced over the kind of heavy going he might encounter Saturday, but he has shown versatility in terms of ground preferences, and twice has won on a course rated soft. And if Excelebration, ridden by Joseph O’Brien for trainer Aidan O’Brien merely holds form in the QE II, he should be difficult to beat.

Cityscape, slightly disappointing when third to Wise Dan in the Woodbine Mile on Sept. 16, will try Excelebration again, as will Elusive Kate, who was no match for Excelebration in the Marois. The Queen herself has a horse in the race, Carlton House, who has failed to progress significantly this year after a fairly promising 3-year-old campaign in 2011.

Supporting the two Group 1’s on the card are a pair of Group 2 races, the Champions Sprint and the Champions Filly and Mare Stakes. Great Heavens may prove formidable in the Filly and Mare, with proven form over soft going and a chance to improve on her sixth-place finish two weekends ago in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, her first start since mid-July. But the Dermot Weld-trained Sapphire is a heavy-ground lover, and course conditions alone should put her in the mix.

Society Rock the ante-post betting favorite in the six-furlong Sprint, was flattered when the horse he beat in the Haydock Sprint Cup, Gordon Lord Byron, returned to win the Prix de la Foret on the Arc undercard.