09/24/2009 11:00PM

Breeders' Cup hopes on line in QEII

Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Rip Van Winkle, winner of the Sussex, could parlay a solid run in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes into a trip to the Breeders' Cup.

Breeders' Cup clues will abound Saturday at Ascot when the historic track in Berkshire, England, plays host to three Breeders' Cup Challenge Win and You're In races, all at a mile, the most important of them the $410,000 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Ostensibly a prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile, to which the winner receives an automatic berth, the QEII could have at least as much bearing on the Classic. Last year's renewal saw Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator post a one-two finish that they duly repeated in the Classic. Henrythenavigator's trainer, Aidan O'Brien, may be thinking of going one better in both races this year, with Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman.

Both have spent much of the year having Sea the Stars wag his tail in their faces. Rid of his interference Saturday, they are still only two of five possible runners in a highly competitive Group 1 mile.

Rip Van Winkle gave Sea the Stars a fright when finishing a length second to him in the

1 1/4-mile Eclipse Stakes on July 4. On July 29, he was an impressive 2 1/2-length winner of Goodwood's one-mile Sussex Stakes, slamming two-time Group 1 winner Paco Boy in the process.

Johnny Murtagh will ride Rip Van Winkle, a 3-year-old son of Galileo who suffered a minor injury after the Sussex. In fact, the entry of his stablemate Mastercraftsman was made only as insurance for Coolmore should Rip Van Winkle suffer an unexpected recurrence of the undisclosed problem. There is little to choose between the two on paper. Mastercraftsman has won two Group 1 miles this season in the Irish 2000 Guineas and the St. James's Palace Stakes. While just a length second to Sea the Stars in the 1 1/4-mile, 88-yard Juddmonte International, he was beaten five lengths into third last time by the same horse in the 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion Stakes. If Rip Van Winkle goes as expected in the QEII, Mastercraftsman could be rerouted to the 1 3/8-mile Diamond Stakes on the Dundalk Polytrack on Oct. 2 as a possible prelude to the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Delegator, already announced as a Breeders' Cup Mile candidate, will be making his second start for Godolphin. A neck runner-up to Mastercraftsman in the St. James's Palace when trained by Brian Meehan, the Dansili 3-year-old was the 1 1/2-length winner of the Group 2 Celebration Mile in his Godolphin debut on Aug. 29. Frankie Dettori, who will be celebrating the 13th anniversary of the day he ran the QEII card with seven victories in 1996, has the ride.

The improving Aqlaam, however, may pose a bigger threat to Rip Van Winkle. Trained by William Haggas for Hamdan al-Maktoum, he improved off a six-length second to Goldikova in the Prix Jacques le Marois to win the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp three weeks ago. The lightly raced Michael Stoute-trained Zacinto, second in the Celebration Mile, also can be expected to improve.

* The appeal lodged by owner Andrew Lloyd-Webber protesting the disqualification of Dar Re Mi from the Prix Vermeille on Sept. 13 was heard by the France-Galop stewards in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris on Thursday, but a decision on the affair was postponed until Tuesday. Lloyd-Webber has strongly suggested that Dar Re Mi's appearance in the Arc depends upon the verdict.