10/15/2009 12:00AM

As its name suggests, the QE II has prestige


It was 25 years ago this week, on Thursday, Oct. 11, 1984, that Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to an American racetrack. The race named for her was inaugurated as something of an afterthought, as a tribute to Her Majesty for honoring Keeneland with her presence.

In the quarter-century that has passed, the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup has gained a foothold in the national racing consciousness, at least among horsemen and racing fans who pay attention. The race invariably draws the best of its niche, the 3-year-old filly turf division, as an invitational that has attracted another excellent field for the 2009 running Saturday.

Will Farish, the prominent central Kentucky breeder-owner who hosted the queen at his Lane's End Farm during that historic 1984 visit and on a number of subsequent occasions -- including her visit to the 2007 Kentucky Derby -- said he is proud of the way the QE II has become ingrained in the upper echelon of American stakes.

"The queen had bred a few of her mares to American stallions and was wanting to come see some of them here in Kentucky," said Farish. "One thing led to another, and the visit was set up. She ended up spending five days here, culminating in her visit to Keeneland. We probably did three or four farms a day, looking at the horses, meeting with the farm owners and veterinarians. She was fascinated by it all."

Graham Motion grew up in racing in England before moving to the United States in the early 1980s and eventually becoming a highly successful trainer. He said he will always count his QE II victory with Film Maker in 2003 among his greatest. He chuckles when he discusses the symmetry of a British subject winning a prestigious American race named for the queen.

"It's such a unique race that you hardly ever see anyone pass up an invitation to run in it," said Motion. "It has truly become a very prestigious race. It was my first Grade 1 win, so it will always be one of my favorite races."

Saturday's QE II, the race's 26th running, will be different than most of the others in at least one notable respect: It comes three weeks before the Breeders' Cup, not two. Because of scheduling necessities that involve Keeneland front-loading its fall meet with major stakes as timely preps for the Breeders' Cup, the QE II long has been held the Saturday after the opening FallStars Weekend. Largely because of its purpose of honoring the queen, Keeneland officials have felt it deserves to be conducted as something of a stand-alone event and not as one in a crowd.

This welcome alteration to the 2009 racing calendar potentially gives Saturday's renewal greater meaning. Although sensational mares such as Dar Re Mi and Forever Together await in the $2 million BC Filly and Mare Turf on Nov. 6 at Santa Anita, who's to say one of these 3-year-olds can't give them a run?

At least three fillies entered in the QE II appear to have the backlog of credentials to become a viable Breeders' Cup contender by running big Saturday: Gozzip Girl, Miss World, and Shared Account.

Of those, Gozzip Girl would logically stand to make the most impact. She has three graded stakes wins, capped by a victory in what has become a similarly prestigious race in the division, the Grade 1 American Oaks.

"We're hoping to see her run a big race and be able to go on to the Breeders' Cup," said Tom Albertrani, the New York-based trainer who oversees Gozzip Girl for Farnsworth Stables. "I know she'll be running against some nice mares if we can get there, but this is the end of the year, and she's good right now. She likes to finish from off the lead, and if we can catch a fast pace out there, we might be alright. I think she's up to going against the older mares, although, obviously, everything depends on how she does this weekend."

Motion is the trainer of Shared Account, a still-improving filly who found herself on the lead in her last race, the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont, before finishing second to Miss World.

"That probably wasn't an ideal scenario, her being in front like that," said Motion. "She's such a cool filly, so easy to train. I think she stacks up very well Saturday, and if she were to run as well as I think she will, we'll have to consider going to the Breeders' Cup."

Miss World, trained by Christophe Clement, took six tries to win a maiden race, but once she did that, she hasn't stopped. She won a Saratoga allowance race, then the Garden City at 13-1, and enters with a three-race winning streak that would look even better in California if the QE II makes it four.

Regardless of what happens with the QE II fillies moving forward, the race will stand on its merits, just as it always has. Surely, other famous American races trace their origins to something quirky or to unusual circumstances, but none has quite the heritage of the QE II.

Ted Bassett, the retired Keeneland executive, wrote in his autobiography published earlier this year that the QE II was the idea of someone named Lord Porchester. The race name included "Challenge Cup" to give it a "powerful resonance -- its name alone would provide notice it's something special," wrote Bassett.

Mission accomplished, according to Farish.

"It really has become one of the paramount turf races for fillies in America," he said. "Its stature has grown every year."