Great Britain will host the first four races of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series to be run in Europe this year when the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting opens at Ascot Racecourse on Tuesday, June 15.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races, whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held at Del Mar racetrack in Del Mar, California, on Nov. 5-6.
As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the winners of four races to start in the US$2 million FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), US$4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), US$1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) and US$1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Breeders’ Cup also will provide a travel allowance of US$40,000 for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
This will be the fourth consecutive year that Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races will be held at Royal Ascot. A crowd of 12,000 spectators per day will be admitted under coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Queen Anne Stakes
Tuesday’s 1-mile, US$563,000 Queen Anne Stakes, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), features some of Europe’s leading older milers headed by Palace Pier (GB).
Palace Pier, winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes (G1) at last year’s royal meeting, could meet Order Of Australia (IRE) and Lope Y Fernandez (IRE), first and third in the 2020 FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile, as well as former Queen Anne winner, Lord Glitters (FR).
Palace Pier, owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum and trained by father and son John and Thady Gosden, who will be operating as a training partnership for the first time at Royal Ascot, has won seven out of eight and recorded two comfortable victories in 2021, including in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (G1) last month.
Palace Pier Wins the 2020 St. James Palace Stakes
“He is a lovely horse who has done everything right in his life,” said John Gosden. “He only missed the autumn of his 2-year-old career. He prepped in a Newcastle race last year and came out and won the St James’s Palace Stakes (G1). He did everything right last year until the end when he ran on very soft autumn ground (in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot). He hated that, lost a shoe and got left.
“He’s come back well this year. We are back there. It will be different ground again but we are happy with him.
“He did handle that ground (good to soft) in the Lockinge and I’ve got to be clear that maybe a horse like Lope Y Fernandez did not. Back now on summer ground I think you will see a lot more horses come into play that maybe weren’t happy on the ground.”
Lord Glitters, now age 8, finished fourth in the Lockinge in his first start since returning from a successful trip to Dubai. Trainer David O’Meara said: “He ran fine in the Lockinge. There were a few younger horses ahead of him and Palace Pier looked unbeatable, but Lord Glitters likes the straight track at Ascot so hopefully he runs his race again. He is better at Ascot than at Newbury.”
Prince of Wale’s Stakes
Wednesday’s feature, the US$991,000 Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1), will be contested by another single figure, yet high-class field.
Last year’s first and second Lord North (IRE) and Addeybb (IRE) have been engaged but Addeybb is unlikely to run unless there is significant rain, which is not forecast.
The race could mark the return of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier’s 4-year-old filly Love (IRE), who in a short but unbeaten 3-year-old campaign won the 1,000 Guineas (G1), Oaks (G1) and Yorkshire Oaks (G1), as well as Mrs. A. M. Swinburn’s Audarya (FR), winner of the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) at Keeneland in November.
HH Sheikh Zayed bin Mohammed Racing’s Lord North ended the year finishing fourth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, and returned to the winner’s circle with victory in the Dubai Turf (G1) at Meydan in March this year.
Lord North Wins 2020 Prince of Wale’s Stakes
“He’s a great character, he’s in good form,” said John Gosden. “He’s back on quicker ground. I think it’s a fascinating race. Love has been waiting for this type of ground. She was exceptional last year but she raced with her own sex.”
A decision on Audarya’s participation was expected over the weekend with trainer James Fanshawe saying: “She goes on all ground. I wouldn’t want it rock-hard but hopefully on the second day of Ascot it won’t be.”
The 11-time Royal Ascot winner Wesley Ward will be seeking a third victory in the Norfolk Stakes (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, in which Golden Pal was beaten a neck before going on to capture the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Keeneland last year.
Ward is set to be represented by Kentucky-breds, Lucci, with John Velazquez named to ride, and Nakatomi, who will be ridden by Britain’s champion jockey Oisin Murphy, in the US$113,000 contest at 5 furlongs.
“At home, we have been working Lucci and Nakatomi together,” said Ward. “Nakatomi was coming out on top, but then they had a workout in Newmarket on the Limekilns and Lucci turned the tables. He just bounced straight through to the front and would not give up the lead.”
The David Ward homebred Starman (GB) has won four of five and is favorite to secure his first victory at the highest level in the 6-furlong US$991,000 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1). Starman, a bay son of Dutch Art (GB), won York’s Duke of York Stakes (G2) last month in which he beat Nahaarr (IRE) by a neck.
“He is a massively exciting horse,” said his trainer Ed Walker. “He is a big imposing horse with that presence, a real head-turner in the string. He’s obviously very good as well. Everything has gone well since York.
“Nahaarr got pretty close to us at York and Dream Of Dreams (IRE) is a G1 winner. I kind of feel that they both are probably at their best with a bit of dig in the ground so I think if it’s good, fast summer ground it will play into our favor slightly.”
The race will also mark the return of Bearstone Stud Ltd.’s Glass Slippers (GB), who will be having her first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last year. Fifth in the King’s Stand Stakes (G1) last year, she will be running over 6 furlongs for the first time since August 2019.
“She showed towards the end of the year she was seeing out the 5-furlong trip well,” said Adam Ryan, son and assistant of trainer Kevin who won last year’s Diamond Jubilee with Hello Youmzain.
“She has done everything there is over 5 furlongs with her Group 1 wins, so it’s worth a try at 6 as it could open up plenty of other options.”