The fact there is a main event in the COVID-19 era took a back seat for Day 2 of tonight’s The Championships from Royal Randwick in Sydney. The biggest question horse racing fans across racing-mad Australia have is this: How do you follow a superhorse in the main event?

Danon Premium-The Championships
Japanese colt Danon Premium owns six victories in 10 races. He is the favorite for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, one of four Group 1 races headlining Day 2 of The Championships in Sydney. (Image: N. Kouno)

That main event, the headliner for Day 2, is the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. It is one of four Group (Grade) 1 races on Friday night’s card. Like last week’s opening day of The Championships, it will be run without spectators. But it will run, and it will run without the superhorse who won it the last three years: Winx.

Dating to 1851, when it debuted as the Queen’s Plate to honor Queen Victoria, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes rose in stature and prominence to become The Championships main event. It began as a three-mile marathon, but over the years, shrank in distance to its current 1 ¼-mile test. It is a weight-for-age race, meaning horses carry a set weight based on their age, sex, and distance. This allows younger horses to compete equally with more mature horses, since stamina comes with maturity.

In 1954, Queen Elizabeth visited Australia and the Australian Jockey Club named a race in her honor. A horse fancier, the Queen watched 33/1 shot Blue Ocean win her race and set the track record in the process.

Wide-Open, Stellar Field Seeks to Follow Winx

Now, it’s up to a wide-open, world-class field of 13 horses charged with following in the hoofprints of Winx. The incomparable mare won her third consecutive Queen Elizabeth Stakes last year in her final race – a race doubling as her 33rd consecutive victory.

Who gets to follow that? The field starts with your 3/1 favorite, Danon Premium. The 5-year-old Japanese horse makes his 2020 and Australian debut in the country’s biggest racing spotlight. He does so with the hottest jockey of Sydney’s Autumn Carnival aboard – James McDonald. The winner of nine races over The Championships’ two weekends, McDonald pilots a horse who ended 2019 hitting the board in two Group 1 races.

Behind Danon Premium is an armada of contenders starting with English gelding Addeybb (7/2), who beat another contender, Verry Elleegant (6/1), in an Australian race earlier this year. Exotic possibilities abound when you factor in New Zealand stablemates Te Akau Shark (5/1) and Melody Belle (10/1), along with Master of Wine (8/1).

Preceding the Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the Sydney Cup, a two-mile marathon similar to the more-famous Melbourne Cup. Your 8/5 favorite is Young Rascal, who carries the same connections – trainer William Haggaas and jockey Tom Marquand — as Addeybb. Keep an eye on second-favorite Mustajeer (4/1), who ran second to both Verry Elleegant and Master of Wine in his last two races.

Rivals Take Separate Paths

The third marquee race is the Coolmore Legacy, which follows the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Funstar (2/1) is your favorite in the weight-for-age mile race for fillies and mares. As a 3-year-old running against older horses, Funstar will carry less weight.

This separates Funstar from her rival, Probabeel (3/1), the second favorite in the 1 ½-mile Australian Oaks, the first Group 1 race on the card. The two built a rivalry over the last year that diverged when Funstar’s trainer, Chris Waller, decided a mile was better for his charge. So Probabeel contends with favorite Colette (2/1) and Shout the Bar (7/2), whose name is an Australian phrase meaning drinks for the entire bar.

In a normal year, winning connections would be “shouting the bar” all over Royal Randwick and environs. Instead, Shout the Bar will run her 1 ½ miles in front of an empty track. And in this day and age of shuttered racetracks, that will mean plenty.