10/13/2011 1:12PM

Keeneland: Together comes back quickly for QE II Challenge Cup

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Together (6), second to Never Retreat in last Saturday's First Lady, comes back a week later in this Saturday's Queen Elizavbeth II Challenge Cup.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Doesn’t this Aidan O’Brien guy know you’re not supposed to run a horse back in seven days? Maybe it was the thing to do back in the old country when Queen Elizabeth II was coronated in 1953, but hey, somebody tell him that things have changed in the world of racing since then.

In reality, O’Brien might be onto something. The iconic Irish trainer is reverting to old-school methods by running back a Coolmore filly named Together as one of the top contenders Saturday at Keeneland in the highly prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. The $400,000 QE II, the last of six Grade 1 races at this 17-day fall meet, brings together a stellar group of 3-year-old turf fillies, with the New York filly, Winter Memories, likely to be favored.

O’Brien, as usual, has made himself unavailable to foreign media this week, but his apparent desire to run Together back in the QE II after she finished a bang-up second against older fillies and mares in the Grade 1 First Lady here last Saturday seems to speak for itself.

“The Coolmore people told us they were sending the filly here for the QE II, and when they went in the First Lady, we sure weren’t going to tell them no,” said a smiling Ben Huffman, racing secretary at Keeneland.

Indeed, far be it for anyone to question what O’Brien gets done when he formulates a plan. O’Brien, who turns 42 on Sunday, will be trying to add yet another big feather to his bulging cap when Together, with Colm O’Donoghue to ride, will break from post 2 in the 1 1/8-mile QE II.

In the next stall over, in post 3, Winter Memories will be going for her seventh win from nine career starts when ridden by Javier Castellano. The gray descendent of an incredibly rich family of Thoroughbreds raised by the Darby Dan Farm heirs, the Phillips Racing Partnership, Winter Memories was spectacular in winning her last race by passing all seven of her opponents in the final furlong of the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont Park.

The QE II is “our key race of the year,” said Jimmy Toner, who was here Thursday morning to watch Winter Memories go through her training paces amid a steady drizzle. “She’ll go to Darby Dan after this and get a break, then we’ll bring her back next year.”

The Galbreath and Phillips families have won the QE II a remarkable five times in its 27 runnings, with the latest coming in 1996 with Memories of Silver, the dam of Winter Memories.

Winter Memories has been favored in all eight prior starts, but the depth of the QE II field is likely to keep her price above even-money Saturday. Aside from Together, that opposition includes Summer Soiree, a winner in 4 of her last 5 starts, most recently the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks; the uncoupled John Shirreffs duo of Star Billing and Nereid, the respective two-three finishers in the Del Mar Oaks; More Than Real, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall for Todd Pletcher; Kathmanblu, winner of the Jessamine Stakes here last fall; and Marketing Mix, who enters off back-to-back romps in turf stakes, ending with the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington Park.

Shirreffs sent out Harmonious to win the 2010 QE II by 4 1/4 lengths, but the California-based trainer is reluctant to compare either of his 2011 starters with her.

“When you have a horse that is improving, you always feel good about their chances,” said Shirreffs. “That’s the way it is with these two.”

Castellano is the only one of the eight jockeys named in this running of the QE II to have won the race previously, having done so in 2007 aboard Bit of Whimsy for trainer Barclay Tagg.

The QE II, the ninth of 10 Saturday races, will be televised live on a one-hour broadcast (5-6 p.m. Eastern) on NBC Sports, along with the $125,000 Keeneland 75th Anniversary Stakes (race 8), a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds attempting to make the new Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. First post is 1:15 p.m.

The QE II dates to 1984, when the Queen herself was here for the inaugural running.