It's Frankel against seven in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot -- the highlight of British Champions Day and a rich weekend of international turf racing.
Only slightly eclipsed by the brilliant English card are the $1.5 million (Canadian), Grade I Pattison Canadian International and the $1 million (Canadian), Grade I E.P. Taylor, both run on Sunday at Woodbine outside Toronto. Those fixtures have become two of North America's most prominent grass races.
Saturday's renewal of the Caulfield Cup in Australia boasts a generous purse and drew a field of 22 -- 14 of them from across the water.
Keeneland is in full swing with a top grass race of its own, the $400,000, Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Sunday. Belmont, Santa Anita and Hawthorne all have graded events on the turf.
The top main-track races on Saturday are the handsomely endowed Florida Stallions stakes finales and the Grade III Spend a Buck Handicap at Calder Race Course, the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby and $250,000 Remington Oaks at Remington Park and the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic at Charles Town -- a state-bred event that testifies to the impact of gaming revenue on a state's horse racing economy.
But the focus of the weekend clearly is on Ascot.
The inaugural Champions Day brings together several historic fixtures of British racing to rival the Breeders' Cup, Dubai World Cup and the Hong Kong International Races as a monumental confluence of top competitors.
As Cigar "signed" the initial Dubai event, Frankel could leave an historic footprint on the first Champions Day. With his colt unbeaten in eight starts and largely untested, trainer Henry Cecil's main task seems to be avoiding overconfidence.
"He has been going really well," Cecil said in understatement on his Web site. "It looks like there are one or two good horses in the race and no race is a formality. There is no such thing as a 'good thing' but I am very happy with him."
Cecil also entered Bullet Train as a rabbit to ensure an honest pace in the 1-mile QE II. "I don't want it to be a crawl and then turn into a sprint," he said. "It will depend on how the race is run as to whether it plays to Frankel's speed or stamina. Bullet Train should make it a true-run race. He will not go off like hell in front but is there if we need him."
The opposition includes Excelebration, Poet's Voice, Side Glance, Dubawi Gold, Immortal Verse and Dick Turpin. But, on form, the race is Frankel's to lose.
And the best news may be Cecil's extended-range crystal ball view. "I still think he will be a better horse next year," he said of the bay son of Galileo.
Post time for the QE II is 10:35 a.m. EDT. The race will be televised live in North America on TVG and HRTV.
Also on the Champions Day card, former Australian champ and recent British sensation So You Think headlines the 10-furlong Champion Stakes. But the field also includes the likes of last year's winner, Twice Over, plus Nathanial, Midday and Snow Fairy as well as a pair of runners from the always dangerous Godolphin stable -- Dubai Prince and Casamento.
Vita Nova, another of Cecil's charges, another Galileo offspring and second to Blue Bunting in the Yorkshire Oaks last time out, is among the tops in the 11-horse field for the 1 1/2-mile Fillies' and Mares' Stakes. Ferdoos and Dancing Rain also figure prominently.
Sixteen signed on for the Sprint Stakes and 10 for the Long-Distance Cup.
The Pattison Canadian International attracted a record field of 16 to try 1 1/2 miles around the sweeping Woodbine grass oval. Prominent among them are defending champion Joshua Tree, the second and third place finishers from last year, Mores Wells and Redwood, and three other highly regarded Europeans -- dual Group 1 winner Treasure Beach and Quest For Peace and Arctic Cosmos, 1-2 finishers in the recent Group 3 Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot.
The E.P. Taylor Stakes, presented by Fly Emirates, drew a field of 11, headed by France's Dream Peace and Adventure Seeker. The third stakes event on the day's card, the $500,000 (Canadian), Grade 1Nearctic Stakes at 6 furlongs on the grass, also attracted 13, including England's Bated Breath and 2008 Canadian Horse of the Year Fatal Bullet.
All three of the Woodbine events are "Win and You're In" races for the Breeders' Cup for connections willing to consider the three-week turnaround.
Irish import December Draw and German hopeful Lucas Cranach are among the top prospects for the Caulfield Cup, which will produce some likely prospects for the island continent's top trophy, the Melbourne Cup. But the 2,400-meter race, itself worth more than $2.5 million, offers many other possibilities, including the French-bred Mighty High, who raced successfully in the top ranks in Hong Kong last season, Irish-bred Green Moon and local contender Absolutely.
Sunday's Shuka Sho (literally, Autumn Flower) at 2,000 meters over the Kyoto course, will be contested among Japanese 3-year-old fillies. Danedream, the German-bred winner of the recent Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, was nominated but now, under partial Japanese ownership, is one of 25 foreign horses announced Thursday as nominated for the Nov. 27 Japan Cup.
Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey hope to continue their string of recent success with Derby Kitten, among the favorites in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Hawthorne Derby, sponsored by TVG. The morning-line favorite, however, is Willcox In, winner of the American Derby at Arlington and fourth in the boggy Secretariat Stakes on the same course.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita attracted 14 sophomore grass runners. Likely favorite is Midnight Interlude, a War Chant colt coming off a narrow loss to Banned in the Del Mar Derby Sept. 4. Venomous will make his U.S. debut after running well in France. The Ramseys also are represented in that field with Cozy Kitten, making his first West Coast start after winning the Franklin-Simpson Mile at Kentucky Downs last time out.
You could make a case for just about any of the eight fillies and mares entered in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland. The morning line favorites are Winter Memories, winner of four out of her last five starts and all in graded stakes, and Summer Soiree, also winner of four out of her last five, including the Grade I Del Mar Oaks last time out.
Saturday's Belmont card includes the $100,000, Grade III Knickerbocker Handicap at 9 furlongs on the lawn and the $100,000, Grade III Athenia for grass-running fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
The final races in the Florida Stallion Stakes, each worth $300,000, run Saturday at Calder for progeny of Sunshine State sires. Fort Louden, a son of Awesome of Course, comes into the In Reality Division for colts and geldings trying for a sweep of the three-race series and his fourth straight win overall. Redbud Road and Queen Drama, who swapped first- and second-place finishes in the first two legs, should be top picks in the My Dear Girl Division for fillies.
The West Virginia Breeders' Classic is but the richest of nine stakes races for state-breds on Saturday's card at an oval that before the advent of slots revenue ran in relative obscurity for comparatively miniscule purses. Also up is the $250,000 West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs, plus the usual assortment of other races for the various ages and genders.