A classic winner from Japan, the best of Hong Kong’s talented 10-furlong cohort and a talented contender from Aidan O’Brien’s powerful team are among eleven horses selected for a world class edition of the Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, 29 April.
The HK$24 million contest is one of three Group 1 features on Champions Day. Also on the bill are the HK$18 million Champions Mile (1600m) and the HK$16 million Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m). This year marks the first time that all three races will be staged on one day.
Overseas raiders have captured the APQEII Cup 12 times since it was first opened to outside competition in 1995. Japan has claimed four wins and this time the Yasutoshi Ikee-trained Al Ain and the Hidetaka Otonashi-trained Danburite will attempt to back-up their compatriot Neorealism’s win of 12 months ago.
Al Ain hails from Japan’s highly-regarded 2017 classic crop. The four-year-old saw off his esteemed contemporaries in the first leg of Japan’s Triple Crown last April, winning the Group 1 Satsuki Sho (2000m). The bay has been in good form with two placed efforts this term, latterly when third to Suave Richard in a hot edition of the Group 1 Osaka Hai (2000m) on 1 April.
Danburite, third in last year’s Satsuki Sho, landed a first Group 2 success earlier this year and was a solid sixth in the Osaka Hai. The four-year-old colt is a son of the 2012 APQEII Cup winner, Rulership.
Hong Kong’s heavyweights offer up an exciting test. The powerful front-runner Time Warp has won both the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup and Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup at the course and distance this term. Tony Cruz’s charge became the first horse to dip under two minutes for 2000m at Sha Tin in the latter contest.
Ping Hai Star has won his last four races, and none was more impressive than the latest, a sensational last-to-first win in the Hong Kong Derby (2000m) under Ryan Moore. John Size’s charge is slated to test his mettle in the top bracket for the first time, while the handler has also engaged the smart Dinozzo.
The Cruz stable’s Pakistan Star is an enigmatic talent and he is entered with a view to bettering his close second to Neorealism last year. The yard also has the high-class Gold Mount, a Royal Ascot winner when a three-year-old, as well as Hong Kong Derby third Exultant among the 12.
Trainer John Moore looks to a pair of Group 1 Queensland Derby winners: Eagle Way took that prize in 2016 and is a Group 3 winner in Hong Kong, while Ruthven won that race in 2017 and posted his best Hong Kong effort last time when fourth to Ping Hai Star in the Derby.
No Irish-trained runner has won the APQEII Cup but the master of Ballydoyle is no stranger to breaking new ground. O’Brien has engaged the lightly-raced but highly-tried four-year-old War Decree, who defeated none other than the recent Group 1 Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow when successful in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes as a juvenile.
Mr. Andrew Harding, Executive Director, Racing at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, said:
“The Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup is always a highlight for fans of world class horse racing and this year’s edition is once again a special race. Time Warp and Ping Hai Star provide Hong Kong with two potential champions going head-to-head in a clash of the generations. When you also consider Al Ain, a classic winner in Japan, no less, as well as Danburite, a representative from the famed Ballydoyle operation under Aidan O’Brien and some upcoming local talents, the race has all the makings of a fantastic Group 1 clash.
“This is the 20th time that Audemars Piguet has partnered with the Hong Kong Jockey Club and in that time the APQEII
Cup has established its position as one of the world’s major contests, ranking consistently in the World’s Top 100 Group 1 Races.
“This year, the QEII Cup will be one of three Group 1 races on the inaugural Champions Day, and the quality of selected runners places this fixture near the top of the international calendar.”
The APQEII Cup ranked 48th in the 2017 World’s Top 100 Group 1 Races and was a peak ninth in 2015.