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Mawj Breeders’ Cup-Bound After QEII Challenge Cup Score

Champion Modern Games left a big legacy to live up to, but his younger sister Mawj  took one step further in emulating her sibling’s brilliance with her valiant score in the $600,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1T) Oct. 14 at Keeneland.

In a race dominated by European-bred or raced horses, save for the third place finish from the Graham Motion-trained Mission of Joy , Mawj controlled the pace and staved off a furiously closing Lindy  by a half-length for the win.

Although she was making her first start in five months, the Exceed And Excel  filly, much like her older half brother, distinguished herself from her peers in the paddock and turned heads in the post parade with an aggressive pre-race gallop under jockey Oisin Murphy.

Mawj wins the 2023 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland
Photo: Coady Photography/Renee Torbit

Mawj in her hood warming up for the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland

As soon as Murphy whipped off the filly’s hood, which she had adorned to shield her from the noise of the crowd, Mawj bolted to the front, relishing the soft Keeneland turf dampened by intermittent Saturday showers. Murphy guided the filly through pressing early fractions of :23.26, :47.72, and 1:11.89 but when it was time for the real running to begin, Mawj responded to Murphy just as she had in the One Thousand Guineas (G1) five months prior, maintaining her advantage to the wire.

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“We did quite quick sections (fractions) in the first half of the race, but she is a superstar filly,” Murphy said after the race. “She found plenty. She’s got a great heart and mind.”

The Godolphin homebred stopped the clock in 1:48.06 for nine furlongs on a turf course labeled as “good.” It was the first time Mawj had ever tested a distance beyond a mile in her nine trips to the post.

Mawj and Oisin Murphy win the G1 QE2 Stakes at Keeneland Racecourse, Lexington, KY, 10-214-23, Mathea Kelley
Photo: Mathea Kelley

Mawj wins the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland

Lindy , the French One Thousand Guineas (G1) runner-up in May now trained by U.S.-based trainer Brendan Walsh, closed gamely under Tyler Gaffalione after a shrewd, ground-saving ride but settled for second. The Everest Racing colorbearer was making her second start for Walsh following a successful North American debut in an allowance optional claiming race last month at Kentucky Downs. She was a half-length ahead of Mission of Joy at the finish.

“She ran super,” Walsh said. “You couldn’t really ask her to run any better. We’re disappointed that we didn’t win because she was flying so fast at the end, but I am not disappointed in her and I am not disappointed in (jockey) Tyler (Gaffalione) or anyone on our team. I am proud of them all.”

Gaffalione echoed Walsh’s sentiment. “We just got a little further back than we would’ve liked to, last position going into the first turn, but my filly traveled great throughout. She gave me a huge run down the lane. We feel like we had the best horse, but we’ll get there.”

Mawj’s Queen Elizabeth II win not only gave Murphy and trainer Saeed bin Suroor their first Keeneland grade 1s, but provided Suroor with his record 500th group or graded stakes winner lifetime.

“This is great (for me) to win 500 (grade and) group (races) and a group 1 with the filly Mawj, a classic winner. To come to America, to Keeneland, to win is a great result for everybody,” bin Suroor said.

The breadth of Mawj’s accomplishment was not lost on bin Suroor, who remarked on the incredible toughness of his filly. Mawj’s next obstacle, of course, will be the Breeders’ Cup, where bin Suroor reported that she will be cross-entered in both the Nov. 4 Mile (G1T) and Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) at Santa Anita Park.

“We ran her here (at Keeneland) to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup,” bin Suroor said. “No decision has been made yet. It looks to me like she has plenty of speed as a miler and she made it today 9 furlongs. But we’ll see. The mile might be the best for her, sure, but I want to decide closer to the race.”

(L-R): Oisin Murphy, Hugh Anderson, Saeed bin Suroor, Mr. and Mrs. Bill (Donna) Shively and family.<br>
Mawj with Oisin Murphy won the Dixiana Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1T)  on Oct. 14, 2023.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

(L-R): Oisin Murphy, Hugh Anderson, Saeed bin Suroor, Mr. and Mrs. Bill (Donna) Shively and family after Mawj’s win in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes

If Mawj were to claim victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, defeating older males, she and Modern Games would become the first siblings to accomplish such a feat. Modern Games triumphed in last year’s Mile at Keeneland en route to being named the U.S. champion turf male.

A potential start in the Mile would also mean facing Mawj’s Godolphin stablemate Master of the Seas , who was only just beaten by Up to the Mark in last weekend’s Turf Mile Stakes (G1T) following his impressive Woodbine Mile (G1T) conquest.  

Mawj and Modern Games, by Dubawi , are out of by Godolphin’s New Approach mare Modern Ideals. The dam of four winners, three black-type, from five foals to race, Modern Ideals produced a weanling full sister to Modern Games this past breeding season.

Video: Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup S. Presented by Dixiana (G1T)

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