When it comes to his Irish-bred filly Empress Josephine, the concept of “load management” is a foreign one to Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Empress Josephine-QE II Challenge Cup
In May, Empress Josephine won the 1,000 Guineas at 14/1. She comes back a week after running another Keeneland Grade 1 as the 3/1 favorite in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. (Image: RacingFotos.com)

It’s apparently also a foreign concept to Keeneland’s morning-line author, who made Empress Josephine the 3/1 favorite for Saturday’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. This, even as O’Brien brings her back after running her last week in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes. After watching Empress Josephine finish third by a length in the one-mile First Lady against older fillies and mares, O’Brien saw enough to turn her around seven days later.

“She was very encouraging,” O’Brien’s assistant Kieran Murphy said after the race. “The plan is to run her back Saturday and I think the extra furlong should benefit her.”

Perhaps the added blinkers will help. So could the fact Empress Josephine returns to running against her fellow sophomores. The 1 1/8-mile Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup is an invitation-only race for 3-year-old fillies that headlines Keeneland’s Saturday card.

Empress Josephine has an O’Brien blueprint to follow

Not that this is uncharted territory for O’Brien and Empress Josephine’s high-powered ownership group of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. A decade ago, they wheeled back Together a week after her runner-up finish in the First Lady. They watched the Irish filly win the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, then retired her.

Regardless of new equipment and company, Empress Josephine comes in with the best Equibase Speed Figure of anyone in this field. The daughter of the late Galileo turned in a 113 for last week’s First Lady, preceded by a 115 for her fourth-by-a-head-for-second a month earlier at Leopardstown in Ireland in the Group 1 Matron Stakes.  Earlier this year, Empress Josephine clocked a 114 while winning the Irish 1,000 Guineas at 14/1.

Which brings us to what awaits Empress Josephine in the Keeneland starting gate. The two horses who beat her in the First Lady: Blowout and Regal Glory, are both Chad Brown charges. And Brown brings two more spoilers to this week’s parade, with Shantisara (7/2) and Technical Analysis (4/1).

Of course, Chad Brown has turf contenders here

Shantisara began her 3-year-old season in Europe, before moving to Brown’s barn this summer. She debuted with a fifth in the Black-Type Boiling Springs Stakes at Monmouth in June, then rebounded with wins in the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington Park and the Black-Type Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park last month. That last score came with a career-best 101 Equibase. It also brought her career record to 4-2-0 in eight races.

Technical Analysis rides into the fray 4-for-6, which includes victories in the Grade 3 Lake George Stakes and the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes, both at Saratoga. Both those victories came with 100 Equibases and they sandwiched her previous two victories around a sixth in the Grade 3 Wonder Again at Belmont Park June 3.

Technical Analysis went gate-to-wire in the Lake Placid as the even-money favorite. At 7.80/1 in the Lake George, she displayed versatility stalking the pace, then seizing the lead in the stretch.

Can a Canadian Grade 1 winner write a happy ending?

The other contender to watch is Canadian invader Lady Speightspeare (8/1), who is unbeaten in three races – including a Grade 1 win in the Natalma at Woodbine. The Roger Attfield trainee was supposed to run the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last year at Keeneland, but was sidelined with an unspecified issue.

That kept her on the sidelines for nearly a year. She returned with a two-length victory as the 9/10 favorite in a Woodbine allowance last month.

Grade 1 QE II Challenge Cup/Keeneland

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Burning Ambition, 6/1 (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox)
  2. Technical Analysis, 4/1 (Jose Ortiz/Chad Brown)
  3. Shantisara, 7/2 (Flavien Prat/Chad Brown)
  4. Empress Josephine, 3/1 (John Velazquez/Aidan O’Brien)
  5. Nicest, 10/1 (Julien Leparoux, Donnacha O’Brien)
  6. Queen Goddess, 30/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Michael McCarthy)
  7. Lady Speitghtspeare, 8/1 (Emma-Jayne Wilson/Roger Attfield)
  8. Flippant, 15/1 (Rafael Bejarano/Vicki Oliver)
  9. Cloudy Dawn, 15/1 (Brian Hernandez Jr./William Haggas)
  10. Closing Remarks, 8/1 (Umberto Rispoli/Carla Gaines)

“I was hoping to be here in the spring and Saratoga in the summer,” Attfield told Keeneland. “She is fine now and ready to carry on with her life. Hopefully, she will have a nice, long career and this is the next step up.”

The pick: Empress Josephine. Bringing horses back on short rest is actually done more than you think everywhere else but the US. She simply has more speed than anyone else in this field outside of Brown’s duo. If you can’t get around the quick turnaround, Technical Analysis has the versatility to hit the board at the very least. For exotics, keep an eye on Flippant, who could juice up exactas and trifectas.

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