Godolphin’s Thunder Snow, the bucking bronco cult hero of the 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1), will contest Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot. The one-mile affair down the straight course is one of four Group 1 events on “British Champions Day.”
Listed at 15-1 on the North American morning line, Thunder Snow is less fancied than fellow Godolphin colorbearer Ribchester, the 9-5 favorite after three major mile wins this season. While Thunder Snow is expected to point to a Dubai campaign after Saturday, Ribchester is likely to wheel back in two weeks for the November 4 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar.
Aside from Breeders’ Cup implications, the Queen Elizabeth II also factors in Coolmore trainer Aidan O’Brien’s quest for an all-time record. As of Friday, he has won 24 Group 1s – the highest-level races – in 2017. That’s just one off the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 in a calendar year, and O’Brien’s pursuit is one of the storylines of the day.
O’Brien has three in the QEII – 7-2 second choice Churchill, winner of two mile classics this spring including a defeat of Thunder Snow in the May 27 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1); Lancaster Bomber, who had been fourth to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby (G2) and most recently finished second in the Woodbine Mile (G1); and Sir John Lavery.
Since his Kentucky Derby escapades, Thunder Snow has continued to add to his resume in Europe. The Saeed bin Suroor trainee followed up his placing in Ireland with a fine third in the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot. Seen in France in his last two, he wired the Prix Jean Prat (G1) and just missed to Al Wukair in a three-way photo in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1).
Thunder Snow and Al Wukair are both getting equipment changes for their rematch. Thunder Snow is adding a visor, while Al Wukair adds cheekpieces (strips of wool attached to the bridle) for trainer Andre Fabre.
Considering that there wasn’t much between them last time, it’s intriguing that Thunder Snow is twice the price of Al Wukair. The ground at Ascot is going to be softer, which could work more to Thunder Snow’s advantage over Al Wukair. And the race is also going to unfold differently. With Ribchester’s pacemaker Toscanini in the line-up, Thunder Snow can revert to stalking tactics for regular rider Christophe Soumillon – if the visor doesn’t get him too keyed up.
“We're trying the visor to make him more focused,” bin Suroor told Racing Post, “and he's been working well in it.”
Another three-year-old aiming to topple four-year-old Ribchester is Beat the Bank. Five-for-six so far, he suffered his only loss here at Ascot when a dull 10th in the Jersey (G3), and it turned out he was under the weather. The Andrew Balding pupil has since won three straight, by a combined margin of 11 lengths, and takes his stiffest test of class here.
Post time for the QEII is 10:15 a.m. (EDT). For more on the blockbuster card, see the Champions Day preview on Brisnet.com.
Thunder Snow photo courtesy Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club