10/16/2014 3:02PM

Night of Thunder, Charm Spirit clash again in QE II


Kingman, retired last month before completing his 3-year-old campaign, was expected to be the star of the QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday at Ascot, and in his absence, the QE II could showcase the only horse ever to beat Kingman, Night of Thunder.

Night of Thunder handed Kingman a neck loss in the English 2000 Guineas this past spring, and he can follow in the footsteps of his stablemate Olympic Glory by winning the QE II, the last major one-mile race of the European season.

Chief among his opposition is the French invader Charm Spirit, who came home fifth in the English 2000 Guineas but defeated Night of Thunder on Sept. 14 in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.

Those are two of the 11 final entrants in the QE II, worth about $1.01 million and contested over Ascot’s straight course. Both horses, the two favorites, have shown an ability to run to form over wet going, which will be essential Saturday. Course conditions will be demanding, with the turf expected to be on the heavy side of soft, if not more laboring than that.

It was over a similar course that Olympic Glory bulled his way to victory in the race’s 2013 edition, giving trainer Richard Hannon Sr. a first victory in the prestigious race. His son, Richard Hannon Jr., now mans the helm of the expansive operation and stands a decent chance of landing the QE II in his first try.

Night of Thunder, by Dubawi, clunked home eighth in the Eclipse Stakes while racing over fast ground at a 10-furlong distance that is perhaps farther than his best, but there are no other holes in his form. He was second to Kingman in the Greenham and the St. James’s Palace and lapped right on Charm Spirit and the Breeders’ Cup Mile-bound Toronado in the Moulin last month.

Charm Spirit, trained by Freddy Head, might not have been at his best over good-to-firm going in the English Guineas and has won his four other starts this season. His Moulin was the best of them, and he should not be troubled by course conditions Saturday.

Custom Cut, a 5-year-old, has won five straight races but steps into the Group 1 level for the first time.

The 3-year-old filly Integral has turned in an excellent campaign but would need the race of her life to win.

Top Notch Tonto also is unlikely to break through with a victory but ran the best race of his career in finishing second to Olympic Glory in this race a year ago.

Post time for the QE II is set for 10:30 a.m. Eastern.