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Royal Ascot Features Four Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races

Royal Ascot
Four Breeders' Cup Challenge races are on tap at Royal Ascot (Photo credit: Ascot Racecourse).,

The first races of the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series to be run in Europe will be staged next week in Britain when the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting opens June 20 at Ascot Racecourse. Four contests during the premier week of racing offer guaranteed starts to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships via the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series is an international series of 80 stakes races whose winners receive automatic qualifying positions, with fees paid, into a corresponding race at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is scheduled to be held Nov. 3-4 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.

The first card of the five-day meeting features two Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races: the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) at a mile, an automatic qualifier for the $2 million FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), and the King’s Stand Stakes (G1) going 5 furlongs, which offers a free berth into the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).

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Breeders’ Cup Winner Modern Games Heads Queen Anne

The Queen Anne Stakes features a horse familiar to Breeders’ Cup fans in Godolphin’s Modern Games (IRE), the two-time Breeders’ Cup winner who captured the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar in 2021 and the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland last year.

He had been unbeaten in three starts in North America until suffering a surprising defeat in the April 14 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland, only to atone by winning the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (G1) at Newbury in May to record his first top level victory in Britain, and fifth in all.

His 1 1/2-length score was achieved despite runner-up Chindit (IRE), who is set to line up against Modern Games again, cutting jockey William Buick’s hand while attempting to bite his rival.

Modern Games will be joined in the race by Godolphin’s Native Trail (GB), winner of the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas (G1) last year.

Queen Anne Stakes Preview

“Modern Games has already done it this year by winning a group one, and I’m a strong believer Native Trail won’t be too far behind him in getting his group one this year,” said trainer Charlie Appleby. “Native Trail had wind surgery over the winter and he has definitely come forward for his first run of the season.”

Frankie Dettori, appearing at Royal Ascot for the final time before he retires at the end of the season, will provide one of the narratives of the week. Winner of 77 Royal Ascot races, the most of any active jockey, Dettori will partner Cheveley Park Stud’s 4-year-old filly Inspiral (GB) on her seasonal debut.

Co-trained by John and Thady Gosden, Inspiral returns to the track where she beat Spendarella first time out in the Coronation Stakes (G1) 12 months ago.

“Inspiral has taken her time to come to hand due to a cold, wet spring,” said John Gosden. “Last year we were just taking on three-year-old fillies. This year we are taking on proven older horses like the Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, so it is a much bigger test. I’ve been very pleased with her lately.”

International Rivals Square Off in King’s Stand

The King’s Stand Stakes is an international affair, with sprinters from Australia and the United States joining the field.

The leading British contender is Trainers House Enterprises Ltd’s Highfield Princess (FR), who plundered the Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes (G1) at York, Arc Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) at Deauville, and Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Flying Five (G1) at The Curragh over a 35-day winning spree last summer.

She finished fourth behind Caravel in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) and was second on her comeback in the 1895 Duke of York Stakes (G2) in May.

Trainer John Quinn said: “She is a tough, durable mare who has been great for us. It’s a spicy King’s Stand and we’re hoping for a big run.”

J O’Neill, A Kheir, and Coolangatta Partnership’s Coolangatta (AUS), another female sprinter, will attempt to extend the impressive record of winners of the Black Caviar Lightning (G1), which she captured in February.

Australian-breds Choisir, Takeover Target, Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast, Black Caviar, and Nature Strip all won the King’s Stand Stakes after winning the Flemington feature.

“Winning the Lightning Stakes down the straight at Flemington gives you some confidence about handling the track here,” said Ciaron Maher, who trains Coolangatta with David Eustace.

“Coolangatta is good fresh and, even after her win in the Lightning Stakes, I still feel she is a filly that is developing.”

King’s Stand Stakes Preview

James Harron Bloodstock Colts Partnership’s Cannonball (AUS) had his first start at the top level when third in the Kia Ora Galaxy (G1) at Rosehill in March.

“He is an inexperienced horse but, in his two starts for me, he has shown that he is well above average,” said Peter Snowden, who trains the colt with son Paul. “He is a fast horse, he is a tough horse, and he has handled this trip over like it is nothing.”

Wesley Ward, who won the King’s Stand in 2017 with Lady Aurelia, is set to start Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Twilight Gleaming (USA), the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) winner, back at the track where she finished second in the 2021 Queen Mary Stakes (G2). Irad Ortiz Jr. takes the mount.

As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the winner of Queen Anne to start in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), and the winner of the King’s Stand to start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, which will be run at 5 furlongs at Santa Anita Park. Breeders’ Cup also will provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. The Challenge winners must be nominated by the pre-entry deadline of Oct. 23 to receive the rewards.

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