Many years ago now, Queen Elizabeth — the grand First Lady of Great Britain — actually planned and made a visit to Central Kentucky.

She was and still is great friends with former Ambassador William Stamps Farish, and she wanted to pay him respect by traveling to his home at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, KY.

As part of her visit, Lane’s End Farm and Keeneland joined together to plan a major event to honor the Queen — who has always loved her horses; her races; and her favorite Royal Ascot.

They planned a new Stakes race — the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, named in her honor. They planned on creating a Grade 1 Stakes event that would attract top horses from both North America and Europe. They planned on the best horses racing against the best horses in one of the best horse environments.

It was the hope. It was the plan. And, it was a dream.

But don’t you love it when dreams do come true?

On Saturday, Keeneland and Lane’s End will join together once more to sponsor the 34th running (wow…34th running) of the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. And, once again, it has attracted one of the best, most competitive, most intriguing field of grass fillies in the world.

There is Wuheida, a Group 1 winner from Europe.  There is New Money Honey, a Grade 1 winner from North America.  There is Uni, who has raced successfully on both continents. There is Daddy’s Lil Darling, who is accomplished on both dirt and turf here, and tried to ply her trade at Royal Ascot, before she ran off in the post parade and had to be scratched. And, in between all of those, there are seven other fillies and mares, who have resumes and past performances that stand, er, run on their own merit.

It is a great race. Always has been. And, will be again today.  The race, run at 1 1/8 miles on the Keeneland turf course, will be the ninth on Keeneland’s 10-race Saturday program with a 5:30 p.m. ET post time. First post time Saturday is 1:05 p.m.

Godolphin Racing’s Group 1 winner Wuheida (GB) and e Five Racing Thoroughbreds’ Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) winner, New MoneyHoney, headline this year’s stellar roster.

Trained by Charles Appleby, Wuheida broke her maiden at first asking last year at Newmarket and then won the Total Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium des Pouliches (G1) with the jockey who will ride her in the QE II, William Buick.

This year she has knocked heads with the best fillies and mares in Europe, racing exclusively in Group 1 company. In her most recent start, she finished fourth, beaten only a half-length, in the Prix de l’Opera on Oct. 1 at Chantilly. Wuheida will break from post position seven.

After a couple of mornings on Keeneland’s all-weather training track, Wuheida got her first feel for Keeneland’s turf course this Thursday morning with an easy 5-furlong breeze in 1:06 with exercise rider Kirsty Milczarek up over a course classified as “good.”
“She has settled in well here and done well,” said Tim Denniff, the traveling lad with Wuheida, who along with Milczarek has been with Wuheida at her home base in Newmarket, England.
After winning the Total Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium des Pouliches (G1) at Chantilly under Buick, Wuheida did not return to the races for nine months.
“She had a little bit of a setback in the spring,” Denniff said. “We were pointing for the English One Thousand Guineas (Group 1 on May 7) but we put her on hold until the Falmouth (G1 on July 14).”
Racing strictly in Group 1 company, Wuheida comes into Saturday’s race off a fourth-place finish in the Prix de l’Opera at Chantilly on Oct. 1, beaten only a half-length.
Wuheida arrived at Keeneland early Sunday morning. Denniff said the daughter of Dubawi (IRE) handled the traveling with no problems.
Wuheida should get firm footing Saturday with no rain in the 48-hour forecast for Lexington. Her victory last October at Chantilly was on firm turf.
“That was French firm,” Denniff said. “French firm is a little softer than English firm or American firm.”
Appleby is scheduled to be here for Saturday’s race in which a good performance could move Wuheida forward to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
“That (racing in the Breeders’ Cup) would be something Charles obviously would have to discuss with Sheikh Mohammed,” Denniff said.

New Money Honey, who also has a victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational on her resume, returns to the grass following a fifth-place finish in the Alabama (G1).

 

But there are other serious contenders, too.

Like Daddys Lil Darling, trained by local resident Ken McPeek.

Even with her impressive career record on dirt, Daddys Lil Darling, owned and bred by Nancy Polk’s Normandy Farm, always has shown an affinity for the turf. On Saturday, the Scat Daddy filly has the opportunity to prove just how good she is.
“I never doubted that she would like the turf,” McPeek said Thursday morning. “She relished being on the turf gallops at my (Magdalena Farm in Lexington.)”
In 12 career starts, Daddys Lil Darling has three wins and four seconds with earnings of $839,405, second among QE II starters behind the $1,360,017 earned by New Money Honey. Her dirt record last year at 2 includes a win in the Pocahontas (G2) at Churchill Downs and a second in the Darley Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland. Earlier this year, she was second in both the Central Bank Ashland (G1) at Keeneland and Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill.
Daddys Lil Darling, a half-sister to 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Mongolian Saturday, made her turf debut in the Florida Oaks (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in March. She was sixth in that race, which included runner-up and QE II rival La Coronel.
After the Kentucky Oaks, Daddys Lil Darling was fourth behind New Money Honey in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1).
After a fifth in Abel Tasman’s Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Daddys Lil Darling returned to the turf and cruised to a 41⁄4-length victory in the Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 10.
“That race certainly proved she can win on turf,” McPeek said. “She’s had a really good year. Any time you get checks in high-level races like she has run in, it is a good year. She has eluded winning a Grade 1, but she is certainly in the realm and has a big shot this weekend.”
Another contender is Con Te Partiro, who trains regularly at Keeneland for trainer Wesley Ward.
Ward says he respects the talented field of 3-year-old turf fillies invited to compete in the Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup Presented by Lane’s End (G1), but  he is quite confident in his starter, Hat Creek Racing’s Con Te Partiro.
“It’s like playing Michael Jordan at home, though,” Ward said. “This is our home turf, so we’ve got home-turf advantage, which I’m excited for. She’s trained her whole life here, so we’re excited to have a race here, which I think is a big advantage.
“We drew a beautiful post on the inside,” Ward added. “(Jockey) Mike (Smith) will kinda let her float away from there and he’ll maintain his position on the rail around the first turn and try to weave his way through when they get to the second one.”
By Scat Daddy, Con Te Partiro won her career debut at Keeneland in April 2016. She took the Bolton Landing at Saratoga before running second in the Juvenile Turf Sprint on the undercard of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita.
After a fourth in the Soaring Softly to begin her 3-year-old season, Con Te Partiro won the Sandringham at Royal Ascot in June.
The filly has made one start since that race, traveling to Del Mar for the Del Mar Oaks (G1) on Aug. 19. She was fourth in that race behind QE II rivals Dream Dancing, Beau Recall (IRE) and Madam Dancealot (IRE).
Many contenders.  Just as Keeneland and Ambassador Farish envisioned. And, dreamed.