Big run from Staphanos to take second in Hong Kong QEII Cup
Staphanos (2nd from left)
He was certainly one of the underdogs, going off at a price of 17/1, but Staphanos’ late surge to the line just kept the others at bay, in a pulsating finish to Sunday’s Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin. Come the final 150 meters, nothing was ever going to catch the winner, Blazing Speed, but the battle for second and third was a hard fought one indeed. Staphanos won the battle by a short head, and the 4-year-old son of Deep Impact, carrying the famous Carrot Farm colors, had given Japan another slice of success on the international racing scene.
Nothing would be duller than being able to write the script when it comes to horseracing, and Sunday’s race was yet another example of that. The 7-year-old Military Attack suffered slight lameness in a foreleg some time before the race, but passed a veterinary inspection and was able to take part in. Brett Prebble then deputized for Military Attack’s jockey, Zachary Purton, who was unable to fulfil his riding duties at Sha Tin on Sunday. The barrier draw was another cause of concern for some connections, but for assistant trainer, Kazuo Fujiwara, who did such a great job with Staphanos while he was in Hong Kong, the number five gate was just right. “It’s the most ideal position. It’s just where we wanted to be,” he said, after the draw was announced. David Hayes, trainer of the favourite, Criterion, was also pleased with the draw for his horse. “If you draw out in these races, you have to have that bit of luck, whereas we can create a bit of our own luck,” he commented. Criterion was just beaten into third by Staphanos.
The HK$ 20 million showpiece was race eight on the card, and the twelve runners all got away well when the starter sent them on their way at 4:45pm Hong Kong time. There’s a fairly short run to the first corner, and it was Same World, who got across from the wide gate to take the lead, with Criterion having to settle for second under Craig Williams, and Military Attack took close order in third. Staphanos was well positioned in sixth, as he was for most of the race, stalking the frontrunners and biding his time. He was kept company by eventual winner, Blazing Speed, while Red Cadeaux and Designs on Rome were well back, with California Memory last of the twelve. At around the 600 meter mark, Same World started to run out of steam, and Criterion and Military Attack were sent on, with Helene Super Star on the inside. With 400 meters to go, Staphanos still held a great position, but with Blazing Speed on his outside, the Japanese hope was looking for racing room. It was still anybody’s race 300 meters out, but when Blazing Speed found top gear, there was never any doubt about who the winner was going to be. Staphanos finally got an opening to the inside, and under powerful driving from jockey Yuichi Fukunaga, managed to clinch the all valuable second place, Criterion in third, and the fast finishing Designs on Rome in fourth. Military Attack was seventh, Red Cadeaux eleventh, and the pacesetter, Same World, ended up last.
Of his ride on Staphanos, Yuichi Fukunaga said, “The horse was in great shape. He behaved himself in the gate, and I pushed him a little from the start. He settled well and I was able to get him into a good position. Come the home straight, the winner came outside of my horse and I was short of room for a while, until getting a run on the inside. That’s horseracing! It’s his first run overseas and he’s done a great job.”
Trainer Hideaki Fujiwara was also full of praise for his horse, commenting: “He’s put in a great run. I think on firmer ground, he’d have done even better. He’s still only four, and among this field it’s a great performance. It’s high level racing here and I’m proud to be a part of this international Grade 1 in Hong Kong.”
The winner, Blazing Speed, is a 6-year-old by Dylan Thomas, and was ridden by Neil Callan and trained by Tony Cruz. The race was run in a time of 2 minutes, 2.89 seconds.
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