Rulership reigns supreme in Hong Kong; Japanese contender tops field of QE2 with ease to win first G1
A mere two hours after 2011 Horse of the Year Orfevre, racing under the Sunday Racing colors in the Tenno Sho (Spring), shocked the stands into silence with a crushing defeat at Kyoto, Japanese racing fans who had traveled to Hong Kong were rewarded with a top-level win under the very same colors. Rulership, whose conquests had failed to include a G1 in his 15 previous outings, claimed his first race at the top level on his second trip abroad, dominating the 13-strong field of the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse.
Owner Sunday Racing’s Katsumi Yoshida, who had watched the Tenno Sho with huge disappointment in the Sha Tin stands, was elated by Rulership’s feat. “This horse has so much talent and yet he could never manage to win a grade I race. But today, he was able to get a good run on the inside and ran a really good race”
The King Kamehameha-sired Rulership, out of champion mare Air Groove, has a pedigree that outshines Orfevre’s, but his starts had failed to reflect his blue-blooded heritage. On April 29 at Sha Tin, he landed the HK$14-million winner’s prize with ease, and with a margin of 3 ¾ lengths.
The silken ride afforded him by the 23-year-old Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli, set to return to Europe just hours later, surely helped Rulership on his way to victory. And, as he had done in Japan some months earlier, Rispoli capped a rough stay in Hong Kong with a diamond of a win. “I’m very excited to have won on him,” Rispoli said, the words tumbling out with excitement. “Hong Kong is a very tough place. I want to thank Mr. Yoshida for having had the confidence in me to give me the ride here.”
Thunderstorms and torrential rains in Hong Kong had continued from the night before until late Sunday morning. “He worked really well this week,” Rispoli said, “but I was scared before the race because of the rain and because I thought the pace would be very slow. Actually, the pace was slow, but the horse responded really well over the last furlong. He did very well.” Rispoli had done a fine job as well. Jumping clean from the No. 8 gate, Rulership, tied for race second pick, was guided to a forward position, and never relinquished it. He settled in behind Fay Fay, with local favorite Douglas Whyte up. Into the backstretch, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Treasure Beach, local runners Pure Champion and Zaidan held the top spots.
With 800 meters to go, Collection made a move, relegating Rulership to fourth position, but as the field turned into the straight, Rispoli saw an opening on the inside. “I saw there was a horse 2 ½ widths’ off the rail. I saw this opening and I wondered why this was. I knew this was my only chance to get this place, so I moved to the inside. The horse wasn’t scared and he moved in easily,” Rispoli said of the 5-year-old Rulership. Rispoli shot his mount forward and with 300 meters to go, the Japanese runner had a 2-length lead. The others never got any closer.
Thumbs Up, with Brett Prebble in the saddle, finished second, with Sweet Orange and Weichong Marwing, in third. Zaidan was fourth and California Memory fifth. Treasure Beach fell back to ninth, with Fay Fay fading to 10th and the South Africa trained Viscount Nelson ending in 12th place. France’s Chinchon finished eighth.
Rulership clocked 2 minutes 2.38 seconds over the 2,000 meters of good to yielding turf on the right-handed course. Considering the amount of rain that had fallen, the train had drained remarkable well. “I think he really is suited to this track,” Katsumi Yoshida said, “and, I think the rain was just the right thing for him.” Yoshida and trainer Katsuhiko Sumii agreed that the decision to forego Dubai for Hong Kong had been an excellent one. “Dubai would have been too hard a surface,” Yoshida said. “And, short trips are probably best for this horse,” Sumii explained. Future plans for Rulership include a rest and the Takarazuka Kinen according to both Yoshida and Sumii, with both saying they were keen to return to Hong Kong in December for the International Races.
The globe-trotting Sumii, with wins of a number of the world’s most prestigious races to his name, won in Hong Kong in 2005 with Hat Trick, when he bagged the Hong Kong Mile. It was the last time Japan had won in Hong Kong as well. “It’s the first time back in a long time, in seven years, and I'm very happy,” Sumii said, admitting he’d been somewhat nervous and not very confident Rulership could win. “I was nervous before the race because the horse hasn't won a big race before,” he said. “And with the rain, I thought the European horses would have the advantage.” However, when Sumii saw Rispoli give the go-sign he claimed, “I knew he’d won it.” Yoshida said he’d been far more confident. “I knew (Fay Fay) would likely lead and that he would surely fade, so when I saw them turn into the backstretch, I knew (Rulership) could win it.”
Earlier in the week, Rispoli had commented repeatedly on how relaxed he had found Rulership compared to some months earlier. “He has matured mentally with age, just as people do,” Sumii said. Usually agitated in the gate, Sumii’s request to have a gate boy for the horse always seemed to calm him.
Sumii and Yoshida were to return to Japan on Monday, Rulership the following day. “The horse really needed this win and though it’s a win far from Japan, we can now go back without embarrassment. I hope that once back, his fans will come out to see him at the track,” Sumii appealed.
Rulership, the son of 2004 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner King Kamehameha and 1997 Horse of the Year Air Groove, had returned to the track for the first time in six months in the yearend Arima Kinen, in which he finished fourth. Rulership had won three G2 races and one G3 before reaching the G1 pinnacle in Hong Kong. He had been coming off a third in the G2 Nikkei Sho.
Bred by Northern Racing and owned by the racing syndicate Sunday Racing, Rulership is now 8 for 16.
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 became Japan's second winner of the QEII Cup after Eishin Preston's dual wins in 2002 and 2003.
Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges commented at the end of the day’s 10-race card, which had proved a success despite the adverse weather.
“We had about 120 mm of rain this morning and I think the track performed extraordinarily well,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges. “There are not many racetracks in the world that would have a fair racing surface like we had today after that amount of rain.
“What was particularly good today was that we saw a top-class international race and it was a really deserving win by the Japanese horse, Rulership.”
* 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