Rulership to take on Hong Kong Queen Elizabeth II Cup
Japan's Rulership is slated for the $1.8-million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse on April 29. In his second overseas bid, the 5-year-old, trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, is looking to capture his first G1 with victory in the 2,000-meter Hong Kong competition, one of Hong Kong's most coveted.
The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was first run at the Hong Kong Happy Valley track in 1975 to commemorate a visit to Hong Kong by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. It became an international event in 1995 and a Group 1 race in 2001. In 2002, the Cup gained inclusion in the World Racing Championships as the second leg of the series and its prize money was increased to its current HK$14 million (approx. 140 million yen). From 2003 to 2005, the race was run as the first leg of the World Racing Championships.
In the 1999/2000 season, the Hong Kong Jockey Club introduced a HK$1 million bonus for the winner of any of the four Hong Kong International Races (Hong Kong Cup, Hong Kong Mile, Hong Kong Vase, and Hong Kong Sprint) who go on to land the QEII Cup in the same season. Japan's Eishin Preston in 2002 became the first and only horse so far to be awarded the bonus, after he claimed victory in both the Hong Kong Mile in 2001 and the 2002 QEII Cup. Eishin Preston also won the 2003 QEII Cup, becoming the first horse and only horse to win the race back to back.
This year's lineup for the QEII lost what was undoubtedly considered it’s most formidable competitor, five-time G1 winner Ambitious Dragon, who had been expected to scorch the competition in this Year of the Dragon. Last year's QEII victor and Hong Kong’s 2011 Horse of the Year, Ambitious Dragon was withdrawn less than two weeks out, along with Hong Kong Derby runnerup Same World. Collection, the Derek Cruz-trained winner of the 2009 Hong Kong Derby and 2010 Hong Kong Gold Cup, stepped in to shore up the flagging home team.
Thirteen members currently make up the field for the 2012 running of the QE II Cup, with four of them hailing from beyond Hong Kong, and three horses in the field winners of international group 1 races. Topping the list in the ratings overall is last year's runnnerup, the 6-year-old California Memory, with a 120 rating. Trained by Anthony Cruz the American-bred gelding bagged the Hong Kong Cup in December, but is coming off a less-than-satisfactory run in the Dubai Duty Free.
Also with a 120 rating is the Aidan O'Brien-trained Treasure Beach, a 4-year-old colt and winner of the Irish Derby in 2011. Treasure Beach followed the Derby win with a first-place performance in the U.S., in the G1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. The colt’s latest effort saw him finish fourth to Cirrus Des Aigles in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic.
Rulership and Irian, the latter trained by John Moore, tie in the ratings at 118.
Rulership, the 5-year-old son of 2004 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner King Kamehameha and 1997 Horse of the Year Air Groove, returned to the track for the first time in six months to finish fourth to Japan's Triple Crown winner Orfevre in the yearend Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix). Rulership has won three G2 races and one G3, including the G2 American Jockey Club Cup he picked up in January. His last time out brought him a third, in the G2 Nikkei Sho, run over 2,500 meters, a distance Rulership has yet to conquer.
Rulership is gunning to become Japan's second winner of the QEII Cup after Eishin Preston's dual wins with Yuichi Fukunaga up. This year, Umberto Rispoli is pegged to take the reins. Sumii, whose Victoire Pisa claimed the Dubai World Cup last year, said he decided on Rispoli as the Italian jockey had been successful with him before. April 29 is also a big race day in Japan, with jockeys eager to land a win in the prestigious Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto.
Both Irian and Zaidan are trained by Moore, Hong Kong's current leading trainer. Irian ran fourth in the QEII last year and was second in the Hong Kong Cup in both 2010 and 2011.
Also from abroad comes France's Chinchon for his second bid in a row and Viscount Nelson from South Africa, hailing from the stable of Mike de Kock, who has won the race twice before (in 2006 and 2008). Viscount Nelson picked up a second at Meydan in the G2 Godolphin Mile behind African Story. Chinchon won the G1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park in 2010 and is coming off a G3 victory at Saint-Cloud last month.
Hong Kong's team of nine boasts seven group 1 winners, including Fay Fay, winner of the Hong Kong Derby last month. Looking for revenge will be Derby third-place finisher Sweet Orange and fourth-place finisher Zaidan.
Anthony Cruz will also saddle Pure Champion, with Peter L. Ho fielding 2010 HKG1 Champions & Charter Cup winner Mr Medici.
Thumbs Up, trained by Caspar Fownes is hot off an impressive HKG3 victory over 1,800 meters at Sha Tin on March 18.
First staged in 1975, the prestigious contest has been sponsored by Audemars Piguet since 1999 and, with that backing due to expire after the 2012 renewal, the Swiss watchmaker has announced that it is extending its support of the AP QEII Cup for a further three years. “I am pleased with the caliber of horses we have among the selected runners for this year’s AP QEII Cup and I am looking forward to an exciting renewal,” said William Nader, Hong Kong Jockey Club’s executive director of racing. “To have international Group 1 performers like Treasure Beach, Rulership and Chinchon in the mix is particularly satisfying from the standpoint of this being a renowned global event.”
Rulership, Bred by Northern Racing and owned by the racing syndicate Sunday Racing, has amassed close to 350 million yen in 15 starts, which include 7 wins, one second and a third. Tipping the scales at just over 500 kg, he has proven a relatively consistent runner, never reaching the finish line later than sixth. He has been raced exclusively over turf at distances from 1,800 meters to 2,500 meters and has won up to 2,400 meters over both left-hand and right-hand tracks and over all types of going. He tends to race from just off the pace or from the rear and has been successful with both. Rulership has had a slew of different riders, including, in addition to Rispoli, Christophe Lemaire and Ioritz Mendizabal. Of the three, only Rispoli enjoyed a win. Fukunaga had the last two rides.
In the past, eight Japan-based horses have taken on the Hong Kong QEII, the first being Fujiyama Kenzan in 1995. In addition to Eishin Preston's spectacular success, Japan has made the money with Agnes Digital's second in 2002 and Admire Moon's third-place finish in 2007.
Rulership, in quarantine since April 14, is scheduled to leave Japan for Hong Kong on April 21.
All horses will be carrying 126 lb (57 kg).
* Please visit the following websites for more information.
Hong Kong Jockey Club website: http://www.hkjc.com/english/
Audemars Piguet QEII Cup website: http://www.hkjc.com/english/special/apqe/apqeii_index.asp