As Peter Brant’s Gina Romantica burst through a seam between rivals in deep stretch of the Grade 1 $600,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Dixiana Oct. 15 at Keeneland, the reality of her impending victory hit breeders Craig and Carrie Brogden of Machmer Hall.
There were jumps of joy, cheers, and tears when Peter Brant’s 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief hit the wire 1 3/4 lengths ahead of fellow Chad Brown trainee and race favorite McKulick. Gina Romantica became the fourth graded stakes winner produced by her dam, the Unbridled’s Song mare Special Me, and became the latest Grade 1 winner for the Machmer Hall program whose graduates include Tepin, the champion turf mare of 2015-16.
Paris Peacock rushed out to the lead as the field set off on their way Saturday, putting up an opening quarter-mile time of :23.66 in her U.S. debut. California invader Bellabel raced second and McKulick was third, while Gina Romantica rated fourth in the pocket under Flavien Prat. The half-mile went in :48.22 with the order of the top four unchanged through three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.83.
With nowhere to go as the field turned for home, Gina Romantica split horses two wide leaving the three-sixteenths pole and surged between rivals to eke out the advantage, then kicked clear to victory. She raced 1 1/8 miles on a firm turf course in 1:48.20.
Favored McKulick was second. California invader Bellabel completed the trifecta.
Brown captured his fifth Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup after winning with Dayatthespa in 2012, Rushing Fall in 2018, Cambier Parc in 2019, and Shantisara in 2021.
“(Of our) five Queen Elizabeth (wins), this is probably the most memorable, obviously, with the recent passing of The Queen,” Brown said. “What an honor even to participate in the race, but to have such success in it – we’re just really lucky to work with these horses.”
Gina Romantica ($11.06) broke her maiden in March sprinting on the dirt at Tampa Bay Downs. She came to Keeneland in the spring but finished sixth in the Grade 3 Beaumont Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select. She also won an off-the-turf allowance going 1 1/16 miles in May at Belmont Park, but after a fourth on the main track in the July 14 Wilton Stakes going a mile at Saratoga Race Course, her connections moved her to the lawn.
She won the Aug. 25 Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga, then placed in the Sept. 18 Grade 3 Pebbles Stakes at Belmont at the Big A meet last time out. The QEII improved her record to four wins and a second from seven starts, with earnings of $553,540.
“Getting her out there in distance a little more (was key),” Brown said, “and she has more experience on the turf. She caught a clean break and I thought Flavien rode a terrific race. She proved she can get the extra distance and step up with top-class fillies. (It took) a lot of patience and a lot of Plan B and C with a horse we thought first was a dirt horse.”
Peter M. Brant
Machmer Hall, Carrie Brogden & Craig Brogden
KEE TURF 3-4-2
KEE TURF 3-4-2