Princess Grace keeps fielding the questions that come her way and each time a query gets a little tricky, the dark bay filly manages to come up with a retort that often makes the original ask look like a softball of an inquiry.
When challenged to take her proven turf form and see how it translated on the dirt, the daughter of Karakontie (JPN) shrugged it off and then walked off with her first career graded stakes victory in the 2020 Mrs. Revere Stakes (G2). She has yet to race over the same track more than once but has looked very much at home at every venue she has visited. Even when she made life more difficult for herself by breaking dead last in the one-mile Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) last month, it only set the stage for her to make a dramatic charge to the wire before her usual winner’s circle appearance.
“She keeps finding a way to get it done. Every time we’ve raised the bar, she just keeps on winning and running so strong and so well,” trainer Michael Stidham said of his 4-year-old charge. “So again, we’re raising the bar. This is the highest.”
If Princess Grace responds to her latest ask in the manner she has in six of her seven outings, she’ll successfully throw curveball right through female turf hierarchy. Having rattled off four consecutive graded triumphs, John and Susan Moore’s homebred will step into top-level company for the first time when she faces one of the deepest gatherings of divisional talent this season in the $400,000 First Lady Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on Oct. 9.
The eight-furlong First Lady is one of three Grade 1 races on Saturday’s Keeneland card and is a “Win and You’re In” race for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 6.
Quality and quantity will be on display in the First Lady as the 13-horse field features five Grade/Group 1 winners, including Godolphin homebred Althiqa (GB), victor of both the Just a Game (G1) and Diana (G1) Stakes in her first two North American outings. Given that Princess Grace is a half-length away from being unbeaten in her career, diving into deeper waters was the next logical step for the seemingly unflappable filly.
Since winning at first asking at Colonial Downs last August, Princess Grace has given repeated demonstrations of her versatilty. After suffering her lone career loss in the 2020 Valley View Stakes (G3) at Keeneland last Oct. 16, Princess Grace handled the main track with aplomb when she won an off-the-turf edition of the Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs. While she rated just off the early pace in that outing, she has been just as effective sitting midpack as evidenced by her victories in the 1 1/16-miles Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3) on July 6 and Yellow Ribbon Stakes (G2) at Del Mar on Aug. 7.
And while her connections had their nerves rattled when Princess Grace got away slow and was at the back of the nine-horse field over the undulating course in the Sept. 11 Ladies Turf, she saved ground down the stretch, came through an opening, and rallied to finish a half-length ahead of fellow First Lady entrant, Dalika (GER).
“I think the best is yet to come with her for sure. She’s accomplished a lot in a short period of time,” said Stidham, who also trained Masquerade, dam of Princess Grace. “She hasn’t run that many times and every time we send her out there, she just keeps doing things that we didn’t think she could do.
“She was always a real athletic type that looked like she was going to be a runner, but at no point did she give us the confidence of what she has accomplished,” Stidham continued. “Her mother didn’t have as much quality, but she was one of those who dug in and ran hard every time you. Turning for home, she would always fight it out and find a way to get her head in front. So, she takes after her mom, but she shows a lot more quality than her mother did.”
Saturday’s First Lady will mark the first time Princess Grace will be making a return appearance at a track she has raced over before and Stidham would love nothing more than for her to pull off the dual task of breaking through at the highest level while avenging the lone blip on her past performance lines.
“This is like a Breeders’ Cup race when you look at it on paper. It’s got to be as tough as the Breeders’ Cup race would be,” Stidham said.
If Althiqa remains perfect in her stateside ventures after Saturday, the daughter of Dark Angel (IRE) would likely be among the favorites should she move on to the World Championships at Del Mar next month. Trained by Charlie Appleby, the 4-year-old gray filly bested her stablemate Summer Romance (IRE) in both the Just a Game and Diana, prevailing by three-quarters of a length in her most recent outing.
“What I realized with Althiqa with all the time she’s been with us, she’s becoming stronger physically and mentally,” Appleby’s assistant Sophie Chretien said after the Diana.
Althiqa will have to contend with another European invader in the Aidan O’Brien-trained Empress Josephine (IRE), who has made her past four starts in Group 1 company and won the Tattersalls Irish One Thousand Guineas (G1) in May.
Harvey’s Lil Goil enjoyed career-best moments over the Keeneland turf last year when she won the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) last fall and followed that with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf in which she was defeated by a neck. Trained by Bill Mott, the daughter of American Pharoah won the Beaugay Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park in May and will returns to the turf after running seventh in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 28.
Trainer Chad Brown, who has saddled the past three First Lady winners and four overall, will be represented by three runners: Juddmonte’s Viadera (GB) and Peter Brant’s Regal Glory and Blowout (GB).
Viadera won the Matriarch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar last November and comes into Saturday’s race off a victory in the Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. Florent Geroux, who guided Princess Grace in the Ladies Turf, has the mount on Viadera Saturday and will leave from post position 13.