Staphanos to fly the flag for Japan in Hong Kong
There's big race action in Hong Kong this Sunday (April 26), when the HK$ 20 million Grade 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup will be staged at Sha Tin Racecourse over 2000 meters on turf. The event has grown in stature since it became an international race in 1995, and Japanese horses have enjoyed their fair share of success, and a win this Sunday for Staphanos would give Japan its fourth victory in the race, following on from back to back victories by Eishin Preston in 2002 and 2003, and the fine win by the 5-year-old Rulership, ridden by Umberto Rispoli, in 2012.
Staphanos arrived at Sha Tin last Friday (April 17), and comments taken from assistant trainer, Kazuo Fujiwara, shortly after the horse’s arrival were: “It’s his first time here, and after arriving he was a bit nervous, and also being by himself at the quarantine stable must have felt strange. His appetite is increasing and he’s getting used to things gradually.” The 4-year-old Staphanos is a colt by Deep Impact, with four career wins to date, and an international rating of 113. He is trained by Hideaki Fujiwara, who also trained Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner, Eishin Flash, to finish third in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong in 2013, and his last Grade 1 win in Japan was the Mile Championship in 2013, winning with Tosen Ra. Staphanos finished fifth in last year’s Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), 2 1/4 lengths behind the winner, Isla Bonita, and in his latest race, the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen on March 1, he finished third to Nuovo Record. He will be ridden by leading jockey, Yuichi Fukunaga, who partnered Eishin Preston on both winning occasions in Hong Kong. Fukunaga also won last year’s Longines International Jockeys’ Championship there, leading most people to believe he’s the man for the job.
It will be no easy task, however, with an impressive array of world class horses and jockeys lining up come race time on Sunday. 7-year-old Military Attack, winner of the race in 2013, will be amongst the field and ridden by Zachary Purton, a jockey enjoying so much recent success, including Japan's Takamatsunomiya Kinen this spring. No international party would be complete without the indomitable Red Cadeaux, who's arrived from Australia in better shape than most of us mortals would have, and the 2012 Grade 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase winner looks perfectly capable of another big run here. Add into the mix were recent big race winner at The Championships in Sydney, Criterion, together with French challenger, Smoking Sun, as well as the John Moore trained, Designs on Rome, who won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 2014, and it all makes for a fascinating race.
After Staphanos’ latest piece of work on turf, assistant trainer, Kazuo Fujiwara, remains upbeat, commenting, “The track was softer than the turf course in Japan, and this is new for him. He had to work a bit to pick up a little more than he’s used to, but he’s fresh and lively after the gallop. I think he’ll move up another gear from now.”
It's going to be tough with five international Grade 1 winners in the line-up, but Staphanos and jockey Yuichi Fukunaga are hoping to rise to the challenge.
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