International stars prominent among G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup selections

A world class line-up of 14 selected runners was announced today (31 March) for the HK$20 million G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2,000m) on Sunday, 24 April, the first of Hong Kong’s four international G1 highlights this spring.

An exciting trio from Japan, featuring dual G1 hero Lovely Day, will join Ireland’s G1 Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) hero Highland Reel, France’s Dariyan, the UAE’s Ertijaal and Australia’s Rising Romance in challenging Hong Kong’s finest 10-furlong stars, led by Designs On Rome, in the Sha Tin showpiece which is the world’s ninth-highest rated race.

Mr Anthony Kelly, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Director, Racing Business and Operations, said: “The Audemars Piguet QEII Cup has established itself as a renowned international Group 1 contest since Audemars Piguet first partnered with the Hong Kong Jockey Club 17 years ago.

“The success of that collaboration is seen today in the fact that seven elite overseas runners will compete against the best of Hong Kong in what is now a world’s top 10 race.

“Japanese horses have a long tradition of success at Sha Tin and it is particularly exciting to see Lovely Day, Nuovo Record and Satono Crown among the selections.

“We also have the first and third from December’s Hong Kong Vase, Highland Reel and Dariyan, while Australia’s Rising Romance and the UAE’s Ertijaal are proven G1 performers, too.

“With Hong Kong fielding the winners of the past three editions alongside this year’s Hong Kong Derby hero, Werther, the 2016 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup is certainly living up to its top 10 status.”

The Yasutoshi Ikee-trained Lovely Day emerged last year as one of Japan’s standout performers with wins in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2,200m) and G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn), and a close third in the G1 Japan Cup (2,400m).

Fellow Japanese raider Nuovo Record, winner of the G1 Japanese Oaks (2,400m) in 2014 for trainer Makoto Saito, proved herself on the world stage in December when second at the course in distance in the G1 Hong Kong Cup.

The third of Japan’s contenders, Satono Crown, is a star on the rise. From only seven starts, Noriyuki Hori’s charge already has two G2 wins and a third placing behind Duramente in last year’s G1 Japanese Derby (2,400m) on his record.

Highland Reel is set to return to the scene of his greatest triumph. The four-year-old gave trainer Aidan O’Brien his first Hong Kong win back in December, having already established himself amongst the best of his generation with a win in the G1 Secretariat Stakes in the US and a second-place finish to New Bay in the French Derby. The Galileo colt was a smart fourth first-up this term, behind Postponed in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2,400m).

The David Hayes-trained Rising Romance will attempt to better last year’s third-place effort of stablemate Criterion. The mare won the G1 Australian Oaks (2,400m) in 2014 and has been in good form at the highest level in her most recent two starts.

Ertijaal, trained by Mike de Kock, made his name in his native South Africa, winning the 2015 G1 Cape Derby (2,000m) and placing second in the G1 Daily News 2000 (2,000m) before heading off to Dubai where he finished third in the G1 Jebel Hatta (1,800m) and fourth to Real Steel in the G1 Dubai Turf (1,800m).

Meanwhile, France’s Dariyan, a G2 winner at 2,000m last term, was third to Highland Reel in the G1 Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in December.

The overseas raiders will face stiff competition from the home team. Former Hong Kong Horse of the Year Designs On Rome won this prize in 2014 and the John Moore trainee signalled a return to his brilliant peak when victorious in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at the course and distance in February.

Blazing Speed took the spoils last year for the Tony Cruz stable, while the Caspar Fownes-trained veteran Military Attack lifted the Cup in 2013. Cruz is also represented by last year’s G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) winner, Helene Super Star.

With three past winners in the field, Hong Kong’s newest kid on the G1 block, Werther, will be aiming to make his mark, too. The Moore-trained gelding emerged top of this season’s four-year-old class with victory in the HKG1 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) at Sha Tin in March.

The talented Helene Happy Star, also from the Moore stable, was second to Designs On Rome in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, while the Tony Millard-trained Horse Of Fortune has climbed the ranks and impressed with his win in the Class 1 Happy Valley Vase (1,800m) on 23 March.

First staged to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s official visit to Hong Kong in 1975, the AP QEII Cup attained international G1 status in 2001. The race was opened to international competitors for the first time in 1995.

Hong Kong’s spring G1s continue with the Champions Mile and the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m) on Sunday, 1 May, and conclude with the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) on Sunday 22 May.

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